The Australian Constitution, similar to every other constitution is a set of rules by which Australia is governed. The Constitution establishes the composition of the Australian Parliament, describes how Parliament works and what powers it has. It also outlines how the federal and state Parliaments share power, and the roles of the executive government and the High Court of Australia. It took effect on 1 January 1901.
Some countries have unwritten constitutions which means there is no formal constitution written in one particular document. Their constitutional rules come from a number of sources. Britain sources its constitution from a number of important laws as well as principles decided in legal cases and conventions.
Key Features of Australia’s Constitution
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 granted permission to the 6 Australian colonies, which were still subject to British law, to form their own national government in accordance with the Constitution. The Act consists of a preamble and 9 clauses, of which clause 9 is the original Australian Constitution. The Constitution consists of 8 chapters and 128 sections.
Chapter I Describes the composition and powers of the Australian Parliament, which consists of the Queen and a bicameral legislature with:
- Single-member representation for each electorate for the House of Representatives
- Multi-member representation for each state for the Senate.
Chapter I contains sections 51 and 52, which list most of the areas in which the Australian Parliament can make laws. The Australian Parliament can make laws on a range of issues (such as immigration and pensions), but the Constitution allows other powers (such as providing roads and transport) to remain with the states.
Chapter II Describes the power of the most formal elements of executive government, including the Queen, Governor-General and the Federal Executive Council.
Chapter III Provides for the creation of federal courts, including the High Court of Australia, which is the final court of appeal. The High Court can interpret the law and settle disputes about the Constitution.
Chapter IV Deals with financial and trade matters.
Chapters V and VI Outline the relationship between the Australian Parliament, and the states and territories. Importantly, chapter 5 states that if the Australian Parliament and a state parliament both pass laws on the same subject and these laws conflict, then the national law overrides the state law. Section 122 in Chapter 6 gives the Australian Parliament the power to override a territory law at any time. It also allows the Australian Parliament to make laws for the representation of the territories.
Chapter VII Describes where the capital of Australia should be and the power of the Governor-General to appoint deputies.
Chapter VIII Describes how the wording of the Constitution can be changed by referendum.
Download PDF of Australian Constitution from www.aph.gov.au using the direct download link given below.