The Australian Constitution

Closer Look – The Australian Constitution [PDF 1.58Mb, 9 pages]

A constitution is a set of rules by which a country or state is run.

The Australian Constitution was drafted at a series of constitutional conventions held in the 1890s. It was passed by the British Parliament as part of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900  and took effect on 1 January 1901. The Constitution is the legal framework for how Australia is governed and it can only be changed by referendum.

Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900: Original Public Record Copy (1900)

Parliament House Art Collection, Art Services Parliament House

What is a Constitution?

A constitution is a set of rules by which a country or state is run.

Some countries have unwritten constitutions which means there is no formal constitution written in one particular document. Their constitutional rules are derived from a number of sources. Britain sources its constitution from a number of important statutes, or laws, as well as principles decided in legal cases and conventions. New Zealand and Israel are two other countries that do not have formal written constitutions.

Other countries have formal written constitutions in which the structure of government is defined and the respective powers of the nation and the states are written in one single document. These systems may also include unwritten conventions and constitutional law which can inform how the constitution is interpreted. Australia, India and the United States are examples of countries with a written constitution.

Some constitutions may be amended without any special procedure. The documents that make up the New Zealand Constitution may be amended simply by a majority vote of its Parliament. In other countries a special procedure must be followed before their constitution can be changed. Australia has a constitution which requires a referendum in order to change it.

The Constitution states that federal elections must be called at least every three years. It also ensures that senators and members of the House of Representatives are directly chosen by the people.

The Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution is the set of rules by which Australia is governed. Australians voted for the national constitution in a series of referendums. The Australian Constitution establishes the composition of the Australian Parliament, and describes how Parliament works, what powers it has, how federal and state Parliaments share power, and the roles of the Executive Government and the High Court. It took effect on 1 January 1901.

In addition to the national Constitution, each Australian state has its own constitution. The Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory have self-government acts which were passed by the Australian Parliament.