First Parliament

Closer Look – Federation [PDF 2.11Mb, 15 pages]


The first federal elections for the new Parliament, which consisted of 36 senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives, were held on 29 and 30 March 1901. Eighty seven of the newly-elected parliamentarians, all of whom were men, had served in their colonial parliaments, including fourteen who had been colonial premiers. Several had also participated in the drafting of the Constitution and were active in the push for federation–ten had been at the 1891 Federation Convention and 25 attended the 1897/8 Convention.

The first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia was opened at noon on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V). The lavish ceremony, which was attended by over 12 000 guests, took place in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne. The Argus reported that:

The ceremony was marked by the splendor and solemn impressiveness which befitted its historic importance. By the hand of Royalty, in the presence of the greatest concourse of people that Australia has seen in one building, and with splendid pomp and ceremonial, the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth was yesterday set in motion.
The Argus, 10 May, 1901.

In his address, the Duke told the gathering:

It is His Majesty's [King Edward VII] earnest prayer that this Union, so happily achieved, may under God's blessing, prove an instrument for still further promoting the welfare and advancement of his subjects in Australia, and for the strengthening and consolidation of his Empire.

Members of parliament were sworn in by the Governor-General and then proceeded by foot and horse-drawn carriage to Victoria's Parliament House in nearby Spring Street. The Senate then met at 1.10 pm in the Legislative Council chamber and the House of Representatives assembled at 2.30 pm in the Legislative Assembly chamber for the first session of federal Parliament. The Victorian Parliament House remained the temporary home of federal Parliament until 1927, while a new national capital and Parliament House was built in Canberra. During this period, the Victorian Parliament met in the Exhibition Building.

In Melbourne the opening of Parliament was marked by two weeks of celebrations. The enthusiasm with which Australians greeted federation and the first federal Parliament demonstrated the nation was eager to unite as 'one people'.