Who started democracy in Australia? How did this benefit the Australians?

Blame Canada!

(And thank you, Gareth Jones, for pinging this in my brain.)

Been reading Geoffrey Blainey’s Shorter History of Australia this week. I have serious gaps in my knowledge of Australian history before… oh, before I was born.

Australia in the 1850s had de facto universal male suffrage, which made it one of the most democratic countries in existence. There was a minimum income constraint in place of £10 a week; but once the gold rush drove inflation through the roof, just about every household in the country made that threshold.

As with much of the boon this country enjoys, Australians didn’t fight for democracy; they got lucky. (There’s a reason the book The Lucky Country was titled the way it was.) Britain had learned its lesson from 1776, and learned it even better in Canada, after the Rebellions of 1837. The Report on the Affairs of British North America that Lord Durham drew up in the aftermath recommended giving the colonials (at least, the white colonials) self rule. Britain sat on its hands about the report for a decade, but then set up legislatures in Canada—and in the Australian colonies. Per Wikipedia,

The general conclusions of the report (Report on the Affairs of British North America) that pertained to self-governance were enacted in Australia and New Zealand and other mostly ethnically British colonies. The report became a sort of Magna Carta for representative self-government even for remote places like Saint Helena. The parallel nature of Government organisation in Australia and Canada to this day is an ongoing proof of the long-enduring effects of the report’s recommendations.

As Blainey winks, there was a revolution to gain Australia democracy, after all. The revolution, though, happened in Canada.

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