Conscription Debate Sources


Source 1

A summary of key information:

"When Australia entered World War One as a member of the British army, public enthusiasm was high and, as a result, there was an influx of volunteers who were eager to sign up as soldiers for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). However, over the course of the first year of the conflict and the disastrous Gallipoli landing, the general public became aware of how brutal modern warfare really was. There was a direct impact on recruitment numbers and the number of volunteers decreased dramatically. By 1916, the Australian government had to face the reality of an army that did not have enough men to fulfil its commitment to the war.


The Australian prime minister at the time, Billy Hughes, was the leader of the Labor Party, who were not traditionally in favour of forcing people to sign up as soldiers against their will. However, Hughes thought that forced conscription would solve the problem of low recruitment numbers. Since he knew that his own political party would not support this idea, he decided to ask the people of Australia to vote on it instead. This is known as a 'referendum'. Billy Hughes asked Australians whether they would give the government the power to force its citizens to join the army.


Hughes' referendum created a significant conflict among the citizens of Australia, with people fiercely either arguing for or against this proposal. The first referendum occurred on the 28th October 1916. Hughes' proposal was rejected by the people of Australia, but only by a small percentage. Following this referendum, Billy Hughes left the Labor Party and created a new party: the Nationalist Party.


As the leader of this new party, Hughes tried a second referendum in 1917. Once more, passionate debates split Australian society. At this time, a powerful public speaker known as Daniel Mannix, who was the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, fought against the proposal.


The second referendum, held on the 20th December 1917, also rejected Hughes' conscription idea. However, it was defeated by a much larger margin than the first referendum. Hughes did not try again and, within a year, the First World War was over anyway.



Conscription Debate Sources. (2021). History Skills.

Source 2

An anti-conscription advertisement commissioned by the Labor Party: 


Australian Labor Party, Anti-Conscription Campaign Committee. (Unknown Year). Vote No Mum. National Library of Australia, Item No. 137215665. 


Context statement:

This is one of many posters that were produces to encourage the Australia people to either vote for or against the proposal to enforce people to join the army through conscription.


Copyright: Out of copyright

Source 3

A speech by Daniel Mannix, the Archbishop of Melbourne: 

"I hope and believe [that] peace can be secured without conscription. (Applause). For conscription is a hateful thing, and it is almost certain to bring evil in its train. (Applause) I have been under the impression, and I still retain the conviction, that Australia has done her full share in this war. (Applause)... It seems, therefore, truly regrettable that Australia should be plunged into the turmoil of a struggle about conscription, which is certain to be bitter, and which will give joy to Australia’s enemies (Applause)… But, for myself, it will take a good deal to convince me that conscription in Australia would not cause more evil than it would avert. (Applause) I honestly believe that Australia has done her full share and more, and that she cannot reasonably be expected to bear the financial strain and the drain upon her manhood that conscription would involve. (Applause) If conscription were adopted I should expect to find later on that many who are now its loudest advocates would be the first to rise up against the taxation necessary to redeem our obligations to the returned soldiers or to their widows or orphans or dependents in case the soldiers gave their lives on the battlefield…I think I can say that I have read most of the appeals that have been made for conscription in Australia. But in spite of these eloquent and impassioned appeals my common sense will not allow me to believe that the addition of 100,000 or 200,000 conscript Australians to the 15,000,000 of fighting men that the Allies have at their disposal could be a deciding factor or even a substantial factor in the issue of war."



ANTI-CONSCRIPTION. (1916, September 18). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved December 5, 2021, from


Context statement:

Daniel Patrick Mannix (4 March 1864 – 6 November 1963) was an Irish-born Catholic bishop. Mannix was the Archbishop of Melbourne for 46 years and one of the most influential public figures in 20th-century Australia.


Copyright: Out of copyright