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This paper examines the extent of an independent Australian foreign policy prior to World War I, why Britain’s declaration of war was considered to automatically include Australia, and the role of the parliament in committing Australia to war.
On 31 July 1914 in an election speech at Colac in Victoria, the Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher (ALP) famously declared that ‘should the worst happen, after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling’.
Fisher’s speech occurred in the midst of an election campaign scheduled for 5 September 1914, in what was Australia’s first double dissolution election. When Britain declared war against Germany on 4 August 1914, Sir Joseph Cook (LIB) was Prime Minister of Australia. Following the September 1914 election, Fisher took office (for the third time) and his government pursued a policy of fully supporting Britain’s war effort.
This Research Paper considers the context of Fisher’s declaration by briefly outlining the steps leading to the outbreak of the war and the costs to Australia by the end of hostilities. It then examines two particular issues of relevance in the parliamentary environment: the extent of an independent Australian foreign policy and why Britain’s declaration of war was considered to automatically include Australia, and second, the role of the parliament in committing Australia to war.