why do we have a constitution in australia

What is a constitution? A constitution is a set of rules regarding the government of a nation, that is, laws by which the government must abide. A constitution deals with the correct procedures that the government must follow to create legislation. It is distinct from statute law, where a Bill is debated and passed through Parliament, or common law, which results from decisions made in court that become precedents. Why do we need a constitution? The role of a constitution is to ensure that the government operates effectively and in a fair and accountable manner. It does this in three ways:
It provides a series of checks and balances so that when laws are made or amended, the government follows the correct procedure to pass a Bill. A combination of the separate constitutions developed by six British colonies (now the six States of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia) led to the development of the Australian Constitution, which came into effect upon federation in 1901. See Image 1 Having an Australian Constitution is an important and necessary part of becoming a nation. By setting out our own rules of governance, it meant that British rule no longer applied to Australia. In keeping the British monarch as a Head of State (who appoints a Governor-General), however, Australia still has a tie to Great Britain, which makes us a nation with a constitutional monarchy. The difference between a constitutional monarchy and a republic is that in a republic, the Head of State (usually a President) is democratically elected. See Image 2 The colonies voted to federate so that they could act on a larger scale, which was advantageous for the administration of certain things such as defence, trade and immigration. According to the Australian Constitution, however, the colonies (which became States) retained some power over other things such as health and education. The Constitution is a document that sets out the relevant powers for each aspect of Australian government. It controls what the government/s can or cannot do with regard to passing laws and gives direction for the types of laws that particular governments can make.


Section 114 of the Constitution, for example, specifies that a State cannot 'without the consent of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, raise or maintain any naval or military force' because this role has been given to the Commonwealth. See Image 3 If there is a dispute with regard to the separation of powers, then the case will be heard in the High Court, which is the highest court in Australia. The Court will examine the case with regard to the Constitution to make a decision, taking into account the specific context of the dispute. See Image 4 The Australian Constitution is an important document; however it is not without its problems. Firstly, it is a document aged over 100 years old, so some of the provisions contained within it are outdated. Consider the changes in society in the last century, both technological and social. The Constitution makes no provision for an air force, so in effect a State could raise an air force without being 'unconstitutional' with regard to section 114. The Constitution also outlines the role of the monarch in legislative development, but a law passed through British parliament in the 1930s forbid any British interference in the laws of the self-governing parts of the empire. The Constitution sets out a number of provisions that can be interpreted in many ways. The Constitution writers needed to make allowances for development, thus some phrasing is purposefully vague, which leads to difficulties with the practical application of some sections. Section 68, for example, states that 'the command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General as the Queen's representative'. Essentially, this means that the government cannot deploy troops because only the Governor-General has the power to do so. In reality, however, the role of the Governor-General is mostly symbolic, with most of the executive power remaining with the government, hence it is the government that deploys our defence force. See Image 5 The Constitution can only be changed via a referendum, which is a vote cast by all eligible citizens on the electoral roll.


The ballot paper must specify the Bill that details which part of the constitution has been marked for change and whether this part is to be deleted or amended. See Image 6 When AustraliaБs Founding Fathers came together in the 1890s to draw up a constitution to enable the colonies to federate, what did they think they were doing? Looking at the debates and the itself, one thing is certain. They were not drawing up a document that defined what it means to be an Australian. They were engaged in creating a document that would be acceptable to all parties and enshrined the political and legal principles which they had inherited from Great Britain. They looked to their British inheritance because they believed, quite correctly, that the (unwritten) worked. They wanted a system of government that would be durable. What they produced is not an exciting document embodying abstruse political principles, but one that has been very successful in setting out how Australian federalism will work. It is very important to realise that the Australian Constitution has nothing to do with identity politics. It does not deal with substantive issues, as do other constitutions, such as the Б which was why the Irish people needed to on same-sex marriage. The Australian ConstitutionБs focus is procedural. The one concession to identity was the inclusion of God in the. It was something that many ordinary Australians desired but was not particularly favoured by convention delegates. , in particular, spoke against it. , forbidding government support of any religion, ensured that it would have no legal implications. For this reason, Australian intellectuals have often found the Constitution to be a rather dry document not to their taste. It does not fire the imagination Б especially the nationalist imagination. Nationalists would prefer statements setting out Бwho we areБ. The Constitution has by and large worked very well. This is not to deny that there have been problems, such as the way in which it to confer excessive financial and taxing power on the central government. But, by and large, the Constitution works because there is a willingness on the part of both the federal and state governments to make it work.


This mirrors the spirit of co-operation that brought it into being. There are some problems, which include the to make laws with regard to a particular race. Such a power is an embarrassment in an age of equality and should be consigned to history. But the current move to AustraliaБs Indigenous people in the Constitution is worrying. This is not because of its intent. That intent is an expression of the traditions of justice we have inherited from Britain, going back to. Rather, the problem lies in the way in which it changes the nature of the Constitution away from a procedural document by introducing issues of identity into it. In this regard, it is worth noting that the attempt to introduce God into the preamble in the 1890s led to a vigorous campaign against such a move by the Seventh Day Adventists. They feared that it would be a prelude to the enforcement of Sunday observance. There is much to be said in favour of recognition of Indigenous Australians somewhere in Australian public life. But it is important that any such recognition should not become the foundation for future attempts to turn the Constitution into a document that comes to focus on issues of identity. We need to appreciate that the Constitution has served us so well because its basic function is procedural. Equally, it is important that any statement Б even in the preamble Б should not have any constitutional implications. It should be a simple statement of recognition. Moves to address issues of inequality must be legislative in nature, not constitutional. Constitutionally, all Australians must be treated equally. This is not an easy or simple matter, especially taking into consideration the issue of removing the race power from the Constitution. However, AustraliaБs Founding Fathers did find an elegant way around the problem of finding a place for God in the Constitution. But it took much discussion. It is only by facing the full complexity of the issue of Indigenous recognition that a workable solution will be found to this issue.

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