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William ‘Billy’ Hughes became prime minister in October 1915. A passionate promoter of Australia’s role in international affairs, he was determined to bolster the Australian war effort. He believed that conscription was the solution to rising casualties and dwindling enlistments. Unable to gain enough political support for the issue, he put it to a referendum on 28 October 1916. The ‘no’ vote narrowly prevailed.
Hughes was expelled from the Labor Party for his pro-conscription stance but continued to lead the nation, winning re-election in May 1917 as leader of the newly formed Nationalist Party. A second referendum in December 1917 was also defeated but Hughes again survived as prime minister.