When Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Australia automatically entered World War One. Most Australians had British heritage and the response to the outbreak of war was one of patriotism. The war ignited a sense of duty to the Empire but also encouraged a strong Australian national identity.
Australian politicians threw themselves into the war effort with patriotic fervour. The Labour Party leader Andrew Fisher promised: “We shall pledge our last man and our last shilling to see this war brought a successful issue.” The Australian public also greeted the outbreak of war with “indescribable enthusiasm”, according to the Governor-General.
World War One affected Australia’ domestic policy. After winning the general election on the outbreak of World War One, the Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher increased the powers of the government. Under the War Precautions Act, the government permitted press censorship and punishment for all those deemed a threat to internal security.
Despite an enthusiastic reception to recruitment, by 1915 Australia was struggling to attract volunteers to fight for the Empire. The severe casualties in the Gallipoli Campaign deterred men from signing up, and towards the end of 1916 the number had dropped to 6,000. The Australian people were reluctant to accept compulsory military service. In October 1916 they rejected a referendum for the extension of compulsory overseas military service. The government led by William Morris Hughes had expected a ‘yes’ vote so the referendum result came as a surprise.
The devastations of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli had illustrated the reality of modern warfare. Additionally, the conflict seemed so far away that it was difficult to maintain a sense of duty.
Historians such as Christopher Falkus have questioned whether Austrlia was at risk of a major internal political crisis during World War One. The war divided society into its supporters and critics, which could have cause significant political and social unrest.
See also: New Zealand and World War One
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