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The peace

Is the peace worthy of the victory? Is the Treaty worthy of the sacrifice made to achieve it? ... What has been won? If the fruits of victory are to be measured by national safety and liberty ... the sacrifice has not been in vain ... Australia is safe. They [Australian soldiers] died for liberty, and liberty is now assured to us and all men.

Prime Minister William (Billy) Hughes MP, House of Representatives debate, 10 September 1919

Parliament and the war

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When the armistice ending World War I was announced in Australia on 12 November 1918 there were celebrations in the streets. The cessation of fighting was as much of a surprise to the Australian Government as it was to the people of Australia; just like the declaration of war four years earlier, the Australian Government was not consulted about its end. However, Australia was invited to participate in the peace treaty negotiations in Paris. Prime Minister Billy Hughes and Minister for the Navy Joseph Cook represented Australia. Hughes' confrontational stance at the negotiations was not always approved of. Some applauded his strong defence of Australia and Australia's 60 000 dead. Others thought his independent approach embarrassing and did nothing to strengthen the relationship with Britain.

Although Hughes and Cook signed the Treaty of Peace at Versailles Palace on behalf of Australia, to become Australian law it had to be agreed by the Australian Parliament. In the House of Representatives debate, Hughes stressed the benefits to Australia; reparations (compensation payments) from Germany, mandates over New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific, and preservation of the White Australia policy. Members of Parliament questioned if money was an appropriate compensation for the deaths of so many. How did the mandates strengthen Australia's defences if Japan had been given mandates over other islands in the Pacific? Most members of Parliament agreed with Hughes' insistence on the removal of the racial equality clause from the founding document of the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations).

The voices in the Australian Parliament echoed those of the community; was the war worth it? Did the outcomes for Australia in the Peace Treaty reflect what Australia was fighting for? Was Australia a stronger, safer and more united country?

 Fact sheet: The peace [PDF 1.21Mb, 2 pages]

Note: under the League of Nations created by the Treaty of Peace at Versailles, Australia was granted mandates (protection) over the former German colonies of New Guinea and Nauru. New Guinea (north) later joined with the Australian colony of Papua (south) to form Papua New Guinea.


  1. How did Australia agree to the peace?
  2. Did Australia's place in the world in 1918/19 differ from 1914?
  3. What did Australia 'get' out of the peace?
  4. Did the war have a lasting impact on the Federal Parliament or the parliamentary system?