5/5/1917 Pro-conscription party wins landslide in Australia

Australian politics has been in turmoil since the failure of a conscription referendum last year. Prime Minister Billy Hughes had supported conscription but most of his Labor Party colleagues had opposed it. After the vote, Hughes had left his party, taking a good few of the MPs with him but remaining as Prime Minister only with the support of the Liberals.

Since then Hughes’ supporters and the Liberals have merged to create the Nationalist Party, with Hughes as leader. Today Australia goes to the polls in a general election. A drop in Labor’s vote sees the Nationalists win a landslide victory of seats in the Australian parliament. Now Hughes begins to think about having another go at introducing conscription to Australia.

29/10/1916 Australia votes against conscription

At the start of this war many naively thought it would end quite quickly, but instead it has gone on and on. The war has also consumed far more lives than expected. Many of the men who went off to fight in 1914 are now dead or invalided. Like Britain, Australia initially sought to recruit more men by appealing for volunteers. However, less and less men are signing up now that they have a sense of the war’s real horror.

Britain got around this problem by introducing conscription, emulating continental European countries by compelling military service. Billy Hughes, Australia’s prime minister, wants to do the same, but conscription is more opposed in his country. Hughes leads the Labor Party, but opposition to conscription is strong within the labour movement. The opposition of his own party members means that he cannot force conscription through parliament.

Instead Hughes calls a plebiscite, inviting Australians to vote for conscription. Aside from Hughes himself, the proposal is supported by the opposition Liberal party, by most of the media, the Protestant churches and by establishment interests generally. Conscription is opposed by much of the labour movement and the Catholic church.

The pro-conscription newspapers provide glowing reports of Hughes addressing cheering crowds supporting the plebiscite but ignore or downplay meetings of those who are against the draft. As a result, when the votes are counted today, many are shocked to discover that Australia has voted narrowly against conscription.

For Hughes the vote is a disaster. He has already been expelled from several unions he had helped to found. Now he is the prime minister of a country that has rejected his signature proposal and leader of a party that is increasingly alienated from him.

image sources:

Norman Lindsay poster in support of conscription (Wikipedia)

International Workers of the World poster opposing conscription (Wikipedia)

Post referendum cartoon from The Australian Worker by Claude Marquet (Wikipedia)

27/10/1915 Shuffling the political decks in Australia and France

Australia has been led by the Labor Party’s Andrew Fisher since elections last year. Fisher has committed Australia to assisting Britain’s war effort “to the last man and the last shilling”, but he has found the strain of wartime leadership a bit too much to bear. Today he resigns as both prime minister and member of parliament. His party colleague Billy Hughes takes over as Australia’s prime minister. He is equally determined to pursue the war to victory, no matter what the cost.

Meanwhile in France the government is also facing rumblings of discontent. Failure in the autumn offensives has led to discontent with the government of René Viviani. He attempts to reconstitute his cabinet but key figures will not serve under him. Admitting defeat, Viviani tenders his resignation to President Poincaré. Now France will have to find a new prime minister.

image sources:

Andrew Fisher, Billy Hughes & Liberal Party leader Joseph Cook in 1914 (Sydney Morning Herald)

René Viviani (Wikipedia)