Australian referendum, 1913 (Trade and Commerce)

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The Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) 1912 was an Australian referendum held in the 1913 referendums which 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'?


State On




For Against Informal
 %  %
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
Obtained majority in three States and an overall minority of 24,196 votes.
Not carried


This resolution, like the similar forebarer, did not pass. 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.

See also[edit]