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Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1988, the four acts granting the Australian Capital Territory self-government were given royal assent


Opening of Parliament House in 1988

On 29 November 1988, the four acts granting the Australian Capital Territory self-government were given royal assent.

Indigenous Australian peoples have long inhabited the area in what is now the ACT. Evidence indicates habitation dating back at least 25,000 years. It is possible that the area was inhabited for considerably longer, with evidence of an Aboriginal presence at Lake Mungo in south-western New South Wales dating back around 40,000 years. The principal group occupying the region were the Ngunnawal people.

Following European settlement, the growth of the new colony of New South Wales led to an increasing demand for arable land. Governor Lachlan Macquarie supported expeditions to open up new lands to the south of Sydney. 

The 1820s saw further exploration in the Canberra area associated with the construction of a road from Sydney to the Goulburn plains. While working on the project, Charles Throsby learned of a nearby lake and river from the local Indigenous peoples and he accordingly sent Wild to lead a small party to investigate the site.

The search was unsuccessful, but they did discover the Yass River and it is surmised that they would have set foot on part of the future territory.

A second expedition was mounted shortly thereafter and they became the first Europeans to camp at the Molonglo (Ngambri) and Queanbeyan (Jullergung) Rivers. However, they failed to find the Murrumbidgee River. 

The issue of the Murrumbidgee was solved in 1821 when Throsby mounted a third expedition and successfully reached the watercourse, on the way providing the first detailed account of the land where Canberra now resides. 

The last expedition in the region before settlement was undertaken by Allan Cunningham in 1824. He reported that the region was suitable for grazing and the settlement of the Limestone Plains followed immediately thereafter.

Early settlement

The first land grant in the region was made to Joshua John Moore in 1823 and European settlement in the area began in 1824 with the construction of a homestead by his stockmen on what is now the Acton Peninsula. Moore formally purchased the site in 1826 and named the property Canberry or Canberra.

A significant influx of population and economic activity occurred around the 1850s goldrushes. The goldrushes prompted the establishment of communication between Sydney and the region by way of the Cobb & Co coaches, which transported mail and passengers. 

The first post offices opened in Ginninderra in 1859 and at Lanyon in 1860.

During colonial times, the European communities of Ginninderra, Molonglo and Tuggeranong settled and farmed the surrounding land. The region was also called the Queanbeyan-Yass district, after the two largest towns in the area.

The villages of Ginninderra and Tharwa developed to service the local agrarian communities.

During the first 20 years of settlement, there was only limited contact between the settlers and Aboriginal people. Over the succeeding years, the Ngunnawal and other local indigenous people effectively ceased to exist as cohesive and independent communities adhering to their traditional ways of life.

 Those who had not succumbed to disease and other predations either dispersed to the local settlements or were relocated to more distant Aboriginal reserves set up by the New South Wales government in the latter part of the 19th century.

Creation of the territory

In 1898, a referendum on a proposed Constitution was held in four of the colonies – New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Although the referendum achieved a majority in all four colonies, the New South Wales referendum failed to gain the minimum number of votes needed for the bill to pass.

Following this result, a meeting of the four Premiers in 1898 heard from George Reid, the Premier of New South Wales, who argued that locating the future capital in New South Wales would be sufficient to ensure the passage of the Bill.

The 1899 referendum on this revised bill was successful and passed with sufficient numbers. Section 125 of the Australian Constitution thus provided that, following Federation in 1901, land would be ceded freely to the new Federal Government.

This, however, left open the question of where to locate the capital. In 1906 and after significant deliberations, New South Wales agreed to cede sufficient land on the condition that it was in the Yass-Canberra region, this site being closer to Sydney. 

Initially, Dalgety, New South Wales remained at the forefront, but Yass-Canberra prevailed after voting by federal representatives. The Seat of Government Act 1908 was passed in 1908, which repealed the 1904 Act and specified a capital in the Yass-Canberra region.

Government surveyor Charles Scrivener was deployed to the region in the same year to map out a specific site and, after an extensive search, settled upon the present location.

The Australian Capital Territory was transferred to the Commonwealth by New South Wales on 1 January 1911, two years before the naming of Canberra as the national capital on 20 March 1913.

Self-government

In 1978, an advisory referendum was held to determine the views of ACT citizens about whether there should be self-government. Just under 64 percent of voters rejected devolved government options, in favour of the status quo. 

Nevertheless, in 1988, the new minister for the Australian Capital Territory Gary Punch received a report recommending the abolition of the National Capital Development Commission and the formation of a locally elected government.

Punch recommended that the Hawke government accept the report’s recommendations and subsequently Clyde Holding introduced legislation to grant self-government to the territory in October 1988.

The enactment on 6 December 1988 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 established the framework for self-government. The first election for the 17-member Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly was held on 4 March 1989.

The initial years of self-government were difficult and unstable. A majority of ACT residents had opposed self-government and had it imposed upon them by the federal parliament. At the first election, 4 of the 17 seats were won by anti-self-government single-issue parties due to a protest vote by disgruntled territorians and a total of 8 were won by minor parties and independents.

In 1992, Labor won eight seats and the minor parties and independents won only three. Stability increased, and in 1995, Kate Carnell became the first elected Liberal chief minister. In 1998, Carnell became the first chief minister to be re-elected.

Source: Wikipedia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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