Australian plebiscite, 1917
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The 1917 Australian plebiscite was held on 20 December 1917. It contained just the one question.
- Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas?
The plebiscite was held a year after the highly contentious 1916 plebiscite on conscription. That plebiscite had resulted in a surprise "no" vote, with voters in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia, as well as a majority of electors nationwide, rejecting the proposal. The political fallout was swift, and by November 1916 had led to the collapse of the First Hughes Ministry. This resulted in a split of the ruling Australian Labor Party into two factions, with Prime Minister Billy Hughes and some Labor MPs forming the breakaway National Labor Party, which by February 1917 had merged with the conservative Commonwealth Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party of Australia. While the Nationalist Party was dominated by former Commonwealth Liberals, it retained Hughes as leader. After Hughes and the Nationalists scored a convincing victory at the 1917 election, Hughes announced a second plebiscite on the question of conscription to be held on the 20th of December.
The proposal for the plebiscite was less far reaching than that of the 1916 poll, eschewing full conscription of able-bodied men and instead proposing to conscript men between the ages of 18 and 44 through a ballot system, and only in months where voluntary enlistments fell below 7000 men.
This plebiscite was held due to the Government's desire to increase the available forces for overseas service during the ongoing World War I, to a total of 7000 men per month. It was conducted under the War Precautions (Military Service Referendum) Regulations 1917. It formed part of the larger debate on conscription in Australia throughout the war.
The campaign was notable for the Egg Throwing Incident where a protestor threw an egg at Prime Minister Hughes.
|New South Wales||1,055,883||853,894||341,256||41.16%||487,774||58.84%||24,864||No|
|Total for Commonwealth||2,776,440||2,258,221*||1,015,159||46.21%||1,181,747||53.79%||61,315||No|
|Obtained majority in two States and an overall minority of 166,588 votes.|
* Including 199 677 votes by members of the Australian Imperial Force, of which 103 789 were for, 93 910 against, and 1978 informal.