Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901
Definition of a constitution
A constitution is a set of laws that govern a country. Constitutions can be either written down or passed on as practiced norms. Written down constitutions are also referred to as codified constitutions while the unwritten constitutions are called uncodified constitutions.
Different countries have different constitutions depending on their laws and needs. While most countries have codified constitutions, there are a few that have unwritten or uncodified constitutions. There are also some countries that use both written and unwritten constitutions. Australia is one of the few countries that have both written and unwritten laws.
Background information on the Australian Constitution
The Australian constitution was negotiated during the 19th century. The British which had imperial powers over Australia during that time wanted a federal government. There was indeed mutual recognition for the need of cooperation between the British and Australians. While the Australian government had not defined this cooperation, British government expressly wanted a federal government. However, this was opposed by the locals because there was a general feeling that the bigger states such as New South Wales and Victoria would dominate the other smaller states.
In addition to this, the American Civil War had occurred during this era and federalism was viewed with great skepticism. Nevertheless, during the 1880s, the British noticed a huge presence of Germans and French in the pacific parts of Australia. This put a lot of pressure on the British and expedited their decision to cooperate with Australia.
In 1889, British finally established the Federal Council of Australasia which was a body that could facilitate inter-colonial cooperation. Even though this body could legislate over many matters, it neither had a permanent secretariat nor source of income. Australia and Britain begun strong negotiations over this matter and this was mainly done through conferences.
Eventually in 1891, the two parties decided to come up with a draft constitution that would legitimize federal governance. This draft constitution was passed through a referendum as the parties felt the idea would be made more popular if passed through majority vote. By the end of 1891, the draft constitution was tabled to the leaders of the colonial states.
Between 1895 and 1898, the parties held many meetings over the draft constitution. During this period there were amendments to this document and finally, another electoral decision was carried out. The western part of Australia did not engage in this exercise. In 1900, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution act was passed into law. This later came into force in 1901. Ultimately, the Western part of Australia accepted to become part of the constitutional process and federal governance was established in the whole of Australia.
The current Australian Constitution
Australia in the recent times has made amendments to the constitution. One major amendment that was made in 1986 was the removal of the clause that gave Britain the mandate to change the constitution of Australia. The changes to the constitution can thus solely be carried out by the government and people of Australia.