1913 Australian referendum (Trade and Commerce)

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1913 Australian Trade and Commerce referendum

31 May 1913 (1913-05-31)

Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled —

"Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) 1912" ?
Votes %
Yes 958,419 49.38%
No 982,615 50.62%
Valid votes 1,941,034 95.58%
Invalid or blank votes 89,736 4.42%
Total votes 2,030,770 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 2,760,216 73.57%

The Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) Bill 1912,[1] was an unsuccessful referendum held in 1913 that sought to alter the Australian Constitution to extend Commonwealth legislative power in respect to trade and commerce.


The "Yes" Case

  • The trade and commerce power is the keystone of the powers of the federal parliament. The present limitation to inter-state trade and commerce paralyses the parliament's action in almost every direction.
  • The present division of the trade and commerce power between federation and states is artificial, indefinite, illogical and mischievous.
  • Trade and commerce are national matters and state laws are not adequate.

The "No" Case

  • If passed, this proposal will vest in the federal government the control of all business within the Commonwealth. This will mean that the centralised government will dominate all trade and commerce, including that which is carried on within state borders.
  • The proposal will lead to a great deal of legal uncertainty and will no doubt be challenged in the High Court.
  • The new power will enable the federal parliament to pass legislation which will profoundly disturb trade and commerce within the states.


Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) 1912'?

The proposal was to alter the text of section 51 of the Constitution to read as follows:[2]

51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have Legislative power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

(i.) Trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States but not including trade and commerce upon railways the property of a State, except so far as it is trade and commerce with other countries or among the States:


The referendum was not approved by a majority of voters, and a majority of the voters was achieved in only three states.[3][4]

Result [3][4]
State Electoral roll Ballots issued For Against Informal
Votes % Votes %
New South Wales 1,036,187 717,855 317,848 46.93 359,418 53.07 39,333
Victoria 830,391 626,861 297,290 49.12 307,975 50.88 21,268
Queensland 363,082 280,525 146,187 54.34 122,813 45.66 11,304
South Australia 244,026 195,463 96,085 51.32 91,144 48.68 8,017
Western Australia 179,784 132,149 66,349 52.86 59,181 47.14 6,286
Tasmania 106,746 80,398 34,660 45.16 42,084 54.84 3,528
Total for Commonwealth 2,760,216 2,033,251 958,419 49.38 982,615 50.62 89,736
Results Obtained majority in three states and an overall minority of 24,196 votes. Not carried


The 1911 referendum asked a single question that dealt with trade and commerce, corporations and industrial matters. This resolution separated each of those matters into a different question. Like its forebear, none of these resolutions were carried. On each of the many occasions a similar question was asked at a referendum the public decided not to vest power in the Commonwealth over these matters.[4] However, although many at the time felt strongly about the need for the Commonwealth to have limited control over commerce between the states, the High Court eventually gave much of the power to Commonwealth indirectly through later decisions, thus effectively removing the need for the Constitution to be changed anyway.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) Bill 1912". Retrieved 22 April 2019 – via legislation.gov.au.
  2. ^ "Notification of the receipt of a Writ for a Referendum". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. No. 30. 25 April 1913. pp. 1097–8 – via www.legislation.gov.au.
  3. ^ a b "Result of the Referendum". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. No. 55. 2 August 1913. p. 1792 – via www.legislation.gov.au.
  4. ^ a b c Handbook of the 44th Parliament (2014) "Part 5 - Referendums and Plebiscites - Referendum results". Parliamentary Library of Australia.

Further reading[edit]