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Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act is the primary constitutional text of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The constitution was enacted as an Act of the United Kingdom in 1900. It provided the new system of government for the new federation, which consisted at its inception on 1 January 1901 of

  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • South Australia
  • Queensland
  • Tasmania
  • Western Australia

Table of contents

Head of State

The Act vested authority in the Queen, making her the Australian head of state. In 1973, the monarch was formally designated as 'Queen of Australia'. A representative of the Queen was provided for, known as the Governor-General, who in practice fulfils most of the roles normally possessed by a head of state.

Parliament

Section 1 (of Chapter I) provided that the legislative power was to be vested in Federal parliament, known as the 'Parliament of the Commonwealth', consisting of the Queen, an upper house, called the Senate, and a lower house, called the 'House of Representatives.

Executive Authority

According to Section 61 (of Chapter II),

The executive power of the Commonweath is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and the laws of the Commonweath.

Article 62 provided for a Federal Executive Council to 'advise' the Governor-General in the governance of the Commonwealth. Though the language indicated that the Executive Council was answerable to the Governor-General, in reality it is answerable to the House of Representatives, though the fact that the Senate possesses the power to withdraw Supply complicates the situation, given that loss of Supply in parliamentary democracies has the most severe implications for a government, given that it in theory should either resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution, should Supply be lost or not granted.

The Judiciary

The judicial power of the Commonweath was vested by Section 71 of Chapter III in a federal supreme court to be called the High Court of Australia. It was to be presided over by a Chief Justice.

The States

Section 106 of Chapter V provided for the continuation of the constitutions of the various states, subject to the provisions of the federal constitution.

Amendments to the Constitution

Section 128 of Chapter VIII provided that constitutional amendments required

  • an absolute majority in both houses of the federal parliament
and
  • the approval in a plebiscite of the proposed amendment by a majority of electors nationwide, and a majority in a majority of the states.

The 'Other' Constitution

Alongside the Act, other aspects of the Australian constitution include

  • Letters Patent issued by the Crown
  • Conventions which evolved over the decades, defining how various constitutional articles should be viewed

While the constitution does not formally create the office of Prime Minister of Australia, such an office developed a de-facto existence as head of the cabinet.

Australia Act

Under British constitutional theory, the parliament of the United Kingdom possessed the legal right to legislate for the Commonwealth of Australia. Though this did not happen for decades, unless specifically requested by the Commonweath, it remained the theory until the enactment in 1986 by both Australia and the United Kingdom of the Australia Act, which 'repatriated' the Australian constitution and gave Australia absolute ownership of its lawmaking, to the complete and final exclusion of Britain.

The Federal Republic of Australia?

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s support grew for the amendment of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act to replace the Queen and Governor-General by a native president. In 1999 a referendum took place to make the change, replacing the monarch and governor-general by an appointed president. For a complex series of reasons, the referendum was defeated. A further referendum may revisit the issue.

See articles on Wikipedia

Australia

Australian Constitutional History

Commonwealth

Commonwealth of Nations

History of Australia

Republic Advisory Committee

Statute of Westminster

External links



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