Australian federal election, 1894
Australian Federation Flag.svg
30 March 1894 → 1896

All 71 seats of the Australian House of Representatives

35 seats were needed for a majority in the House

All 35 seats of the Australian Senate

First party Second party
Leader Henry Parkes George Turner
Party Free Trade Protectionist
Leader since 1894 1894
Leader's seat Parramatta Melbourne
Seats won 35 seats 22 seats
Percentage 38.08% 28.25%

Resulting Prime Minister

Henry Parkes

Free Trade Party

The 1894 election for the inaugural Australian Parliament were held on Friday 30 March and Saturday 31 March following the Federation of the nation on January 1 the same year.

The caretaker Prime Minister, Henry Parkes, contested the election as the leader of the Free Trade party. The Free Trade party won the majority of seats, however, the Protectionist party was supported by many state Labour parties, thus giving George Turner 32 seats of support.

In the senate, the Free Trade party also won the majority of seats, thus giving them effective control over the government of Australia.


Following the Federation of the colonies of New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand on 1 January 1894 to form the Commonwealth of Australia, an election was called for Friday 30 March (in New Zealand) and Saturday 31 March (in all other colonies) to elect the inaugural members of the Australian Parliament.

On 28 November 1893, Henry Parkes was called to form a caretaker government from the moment of Federation until elections could be held. Parkes's cabinet held the position contested and held the house as the incumbent government. 

Voting and Enrolment

Voting franchise was based upon states own specific laws. New Zealand and South Australian women could vote, however, women in other states could not. In Tasmania, men who held at least small property could vote, but in all other states, the minimum age was 21. Only in South Australia were Aboriginals allowed to even theoretically vote.

In New Zealand, all persons above the age of 21 were allowed to vote, and universal suffrage was extended to the Maori people.

Parties contesting the election

Polling Booth 1894

A polling booth in North Brisbane

The Free Trade party (officially named the "Australian Free Trade and Liberal Association") was the leading party, and the Prime Minister Henry Parkes was the parties unofficial leader. Advocating for an end to the tariff system, a transcontinental railway, and the belief that pensions should be left to the states, the party campaigned hard, with George Reid saying "that electing Protectionists would be a great moral folly". Parkes chose blue as the party's national campaign colour, as compared to the protectionists who used red. Major members of the Free Trade party were also major leaders of the Federation movement, including future Prime Ministers George Reid and Joseph Cook and Australia's longest serving politician, Bruce Smith.

The Protectionist party campaigned, however, on very similar positions, so the issue that dominated the national campaign was that of tariffs. The Protectionist party, led by former opposition leader of the Victorian Legislative Assembly George Turner, ran its campaign based around the protection of the economy through imposition of tariffs on imported goods. It also ran on uniform suffrage, age pensions and the defence of the constitution from "radicals". The party campaigned with a number of important federalists such as Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin, and future Prime Minister John Forest.

What would become the Labor Party did not exist. Various state Labor parties existed and ran independently, running on a platform of electoral reform, aged pensions, a national army, and like the Protectionists, tariffs on imported goods.10 members of state Labor parties won seats in the house, and put their support behind the Protectionists. A leading member of the Labor parties was future Prime Minister Andrew Fisher.

In New Zealand where 4 seats were being contested, the state Liberal party won, led by  

Richard Seddon, future leader of the national Liberal party

the charismatic Richard Seddon.


The results showed the strong regional base that would dominate future Australian politics. The Free Trade party held almost all of New South Wales beside the border areas of Victoria, which were the stronghold of the Protectionist party. The various state Labor parties won almost all the urban areas, however, the majority of the party still represented pastoral, farming and mining areas. In New Zealand, the state Liberal party won all 4 seats, as no other Australian party had a presence in the area.

The Free Trade party, with no failures behind them and all the advantages of incumbency without the problems, Parkes' party was an almost certainty to obtain victory in the election. With 35 seats and the majority, the Free Traders could pass legislation without much trouble, as both the Protectionists and Labor parties has to rely on each other to stand against the Free Trade party. Seen as a moral victory, the Free Trade party would dominate the rest of the 19th century before losing an election.

Due to the fact that many of the elected representatives were in favour of the White Australia policy, the "Restriction of Immigration Act 1894" was one of the first pieces of legislation past, with the Free Trader Bruce Smith being the only influential member of parliament to speak out against it.

House of Reps 1894-96 — Turnout 57.98% — Informal 1.33%
Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
Free Trade Party 184,214 38.08 * 35 *
Protectionist Party 136,661 28.25 * 22 *
State Labor Parties 69,080 14.28 * 10 *
Liberal Party 81,375 16.82 * 4 *
Other 12,427 2.56 * 0 *
Total 483,757 71
Free Trade Party WIN 35
Protectionist/Labor 32

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