Similar, Yet Different: The Conscription Issue in Australia and New Zealand, 1916–17


  • Joan Beaumont



Australia and New Zealand came to World War One with similar political trajectories, and their experience and memory of the war had much in common. However, on the key issue of conscription for overseas military service, they diverged. This article considers possible explanations for this difference. As others have noted, whereas New Zealand Prime Minister William Massey could be confident of a parliamentary majority, the early political power of the labour movement in Australia forced his Australian counterpart, W. M. Hughes, to take conscription to a popular vote—a forum in which the performance of politics and dissent took an unpredictable form. Beyond this, Hughes’s chances of gaining consent for conscription were compromised by the timing of the conscription campaigns in Australia—some critical months later than in New Zealand—his personal political style and his failure to craft a scheme of conscription that could secure the majority consent that the more adroit Massey achieved in New Zealand.


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