The Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act is available in its entirety on the Parliament of Australia website. It is this document which was intended to safeguard the many freedoms now under threat in contemporary Australia.

Click here to read the Australian Constitution.

Commentaries on the Constitution

The University of Sydney provides a commentary to the constitution. This commentary adds historical notes and references to each clause of the Act.

Click here to read the commentary.

The Parliamentary Education Office has produced a simple explanation of our constitution in pdf format. Click here for a free download.

Australia’s Rights and Freedoms: (taken from the AHRC website)

How are human rights protected in Australian law?

In Australia, human rights are protected in different ways. Unlike most similar liberal democracies, Australia has no Bill of Rights to protect human rights in a single document.

Rather rights may be found in the Constitution, common law and legislation – Acts passed by the Commonwealth Parliament or State or Territory Parliaments.

Australia’s Constitution

The framers of Australia’s Constitution, working in the 1890s, debated the adoption of a Bill of Rights along the lines of that in the United States. The proposal was defeated and our Constitution contains few protections for what we now call human rights. In his Boyer Lecture broadcast on Human Rights Day – 10 December – 2000, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Murray Gleeson, observed that “the Australian Constitution, as a plan of government for a federal union, is largely concerned with pragmatism rather than ideology”. [1]

According to Lowitja O’Donoghue, former ATSIC Chair,

It says very little about what it is to be Australian. It says practically nothing about how we find ourselves here – save being an amalgamation of former colonies. It says nothing of how we should behave towards each other as human beings and as Australians. [2]

Nevertheless, there are five explicit individual rights in the Constitution. These are the right to vote (Section 41), protection against acquisition of property on unjust terms (Section 51 (xxxi)), the right to a trial by jury (Section 80), freedom of religion (Section 116) and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of State of residency (Section 117).

In recent years the High Court has found that additional rights for individuals may be necessarily implied by the language and structure of the Constitution. In 1992 the Court decided that Australia’s form of parliamentary democracy (dictated by the Constitution) necessarily requires a degree of freedom for individuals to discuss and debate political issues. [3]
(taken from the Australian Human Rights Commission website)