Conscription

Australia had introduced a limited form of conscription before the war. But it was the proposal to extend conscription to cover combat service overseas that created bitter divisions within the community.

Following his return from England in 1916 the Labor Prime Minister, W.M. Hughes, tried to impose conscription for overseas service but could not convince his party. He then tried to put pressure on his opponents by holding a referendum in which the public was asked whether or not it supported the idea. Opposition was strong, particularly in the Labor Party, the trade unions, in many rural areas and among Catholics. The ''No'' case won by a small majority.

Hughes tried again in late 1917, but this time the opposition was even stronger, and the proposal failed by a bigger margin.

"Arrest that scoundrel."
From The Bulletin 3 January 1918, pg 1. By permission of National Library of Australia.

ART V00028 Artist unknown
Conscription. Do you prefer compulsory service?
letter press (incomplete poster)
printed c.1916-17 ARTV00028

A03376 Vote yes, vote no
Twice the government unsuccessfully sought to introduce conscription for overseas service during the war. The prime minister, W.M. Hughes, addressing the crowd in Martin Place, Sydney during one of the conscription referendum campaigns. AWM A03376