Snapshots – The Constitution

Video duration: 2 min 29


Vision Audio

Opening credits showing images of the parliament at work.

Title: Snapshots of Parliament: The Constitution

A book with the title 'Australia's Constitution'. Narrator: A constitution is a set of rules for how a nation is governed. It's a bit like a guide book for running a country.

A graphic showing a map of Australia in a frame. Lines showing the borders between the colonies appear. The map of Australia now contains a union jack.

A black and white photograph showing the delegates at a constitutional convention, with Henry Parkes in the centre.

Narrator: Before 1901, Australia was not a nation, but rather six British colonies. These colonies were under the law-making power of the British Parliament. During the 1890s, representatives from the colonies met to discuss the idea of joining together to form a new nation. A written constitution was developed to set out the rules for how this new nation would work.
A different black and white photograph showing the delegates at another constitutional convention. Narrator: Special meetings called “constitutional conventions” were held to work on a draft of the new constitution. Each colony held referendums to allow their people to vote yes or no on the new constitution.

The tally board for a referendum held in Western Australia.

A photograph of Westminster Palace in London, the home of the British Parliament.

The front page of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901.

Narrator: It took a few years, and many changes, but eventually the new constitution was approved by the Australian people. It was then sent to the British Parliament and passed as the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. The Constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901 and Australia became a nation.

Front views of Parliament House in Canberra.

The High Court of Australia building.

Narrator: The Constitution describes how the federal Parliament works, what it can make laws about and how it shares its power with the states. It also describes the roles of the government and the High Court.
The main chamber of the High Court of Australia, showing the full bench of justices as well as lawyers and clerks. Narrator: Sometimes there are disagreements over the issues relating to the Constitution. The High Court of Australia is responsible for providing the official interpretation of the Constitution and deciding on these disagreements.
Graphic of a book showing the eight chapters of the Constitution: The Parliament, The Executive Government, The Judicature, Finance and Trade, The States, New States, Miscellaneous, and Alteration of the Constitution. Narrator: The Constitution is divided into eight chapters. Each of these chapters is divided into sections which describe the different powers in detail.

Graphic of a book showing the double majority necessary to change the Constitution.

Text: 44 proposed changes. 8 successful changes since 1901.

Narrator: Changing the Constitution requires a nation-wide referendum. A majority of Australian voters, and a majority of voters in at least four states, must agree to the changes. The Constitution has had a total of eight changes since 1901.

Graphic of a book closing.

Title: Parliamentary Education Office. Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2015.

Parliamentary Education Office logo

Parliamentary Education Office website:

Narrator: More than 100 years on, the Constitution continues to guide how Australia is governed and how laws are made. It is the framework for our democracy.

Back to top

Previous page: Videos

Next page: Snapshots – Federation