Pro-Conscription Badge #2013-0030
Lapel pin badge with map of Australia design. Inscribed, ‘Yes, For Australia and the ANZACS.’
The painted face of this tiny badge is linked to one of the most divisive issues in Australian politics in the early twentieth century: conscription. Inscribed with a bright red ’YES’, the wearer proudly displayed their allegiance with the pro-conscription movement. Worn during the 1916 and/or 1917 plebiscites on conscription, this badge is symbolic of an individual’s involvement and engagement in this divisive public debate.
The plebiscites on conscription were among the most divisive campaigns ever to occur in Australian politics. Although a referendum was not required to introduce overseas service for conscripts, Prime Minister Billy Hughes wanted public support before he would commit to such a controversial plan. The first plebiscite for conscription, on 28 October 1916, was narrowly defeated, with 51.61 per cent of electors voting ’no’. The conscription debates transformed the Australian political landscape, resulting in a split in the ruling Australian Labor Party. On 14 November 1916, Billy Hughes was expelled from the Labor caucus and, with his followers, formed a new National Labor party which shortly thereafter merged with the opposition Liberals to form the Nationalist Party. The Nationalists won the election of May 1917 with a large majority.
In 1917, a second plebiscite was held, with the campaign just as factious as the year before. As with the 1916 campaign, large mass meetings and marches were held for both sides of the campaign. The referendum was decisively defeated with 1,015,159 in favour and 1,181,747 against. The debate on conscription was not raised again until the end of the war.