This post is a continuation of the original post “What is in the Australian Constitution?“
So what actually is in the Australian constitution??
The Constitution Act defines, in detail, the conditions under which the Commonwealth Government of Australia was established. It’s second Act extends recognition of the powers of the Queen on to her successors, chaining Australia to the British monarchy indefinitely. It then outlines the methods and machination involved in the election of the two houses of Federal Parliament and their various responsibilities. The largest part of the Act deals with the integration of the colonies various systems of law, taxation, finance, security and transport. It is quite boring actually, and very little is relevant to ongoing debates about the rights of Australian citizens.
Unlike the Constitution of the United States of America, the Australian Constitution does not have a Bill of Rights, or indeed any section outlining and guaranteeing the individual rights of citizens. Instead these rights are established through the Judiciary and through Acts passed by both houses of Parliament. The downside of this is that any government, with the support of a majority in both houses of Parliament, has the ability to repeal or modify our rights.
This is concerning to those of us who believe basic human rights ought to be guaranteed by law.
These concerns are based on prior experience. Indeed, the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended by the Howard Government in 2007. It was done for the purpose of conducting an “intervention” in the Northern Territory. This “intervention” required the creation of racially discriminatory laws, specifically targeting Indigenous Australians. Surely, racially discriminatory laws do not belong in 21st century Australia. The Act was later reinstated under Kevin Rudd. But nothing has since been done, to prevent this from happening to any or all of Australia’s anti-discrimination Acts in the future.
The following Act’s make up the basis of anti-discrimination law in Australia:
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984
- Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- Age Discrimination Act 2004
Also detailed in the constitution are the considerable powers of the Governor General as the (unelected) Head of State. Section 68, establishes the Governor General as the “Commander in chief of the naval and military forces of the (Australian) Commonwealth”. The Governor General is also given the power to appoint members of the High Court, ultimate arbitrators of law in Australia. Most concerning however, are the articles which give the Governor General power to dissolve Parliament and (at his own discretion) appoint a care-taker government until fresh elections can be held.
Finally, Chapter VIII of the Constitution Act establishes the conditions required for alteration of the constitution. This section is extremely important as it acts to protect the citizens of the country from unwelcome changes to the constitution. In simple terms, any changes to the constitution must be agreed to, in a referendum, by a majority of all citizens in the Commonwealth, AND by a majority of citizens in a majority of the states. This protection would become even more significant if a Bill of Rights, preamble, or other section specifically dealing with the rights of individual citizens, were to be added to the constitution.
While this is by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive analysis of what is in the Australian Constitution Act, I do hope that what I have written here helps you to understand what the Australian Constitution Act is, and what role it plays in the Australian political system.
If you have any questions or requests for further analysis or information, please feel free to leave a comment or find a way to contact me!