Introduction
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The aim of this page is to help foster an interest in the Australian constitution and other related constitutional documents. It is not intended to turn you into a Constitutional Lawyer! Our constitution is a dynamic document. Our constitution also gives us the inherent right to alter it at anytime. But in exercising our inherent right to make change we also inherit the responsibility to make sure that we understand how our constitution works so that if we choose to make change then we do so with the total understanding of what we do.Since Federation on 1 January 1901, when our Constitution came into force, there have been 44 proposals for change put to the Australian people. Only 8 of the 44 proposals have received the necessary mandate.

Up until the 1999 republic referendum, there had been no referenda put forward that proposed any change to the role and powers of the Queen of Australia or the Governor-General. With the defeat of the 1999 referendum, their positions and duties in our parliamentary system of constitutional monarchy remain unchanged. For the record, the phrase "Head of State" does not appear anywhere in our constitution.

Direct Links to the Constitution and other constitutional documents are provided. Just click on any of these coloured links to view that document or section. There is also a memory test after each section to see if you can remember some of the aspects of the section you have just dealt with. Additionally, a set of collective questions and the corresponding set of collective answers may be selected from the menu in the menu directly above. You can download an official copy of the Constitution by clicking here!

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Memory Test - Introduction
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  1. When did the Australian Constitution come into force?

  2. How many proposals for change to the Australian Constitution have been put to the Australian people so far?

  3. How many of the proposals for change to the constitution have been agreed to by the Australian people.

  4. there been any changes to the position or role of the Queen of Australia and or the Governor-General in the constitution in any of the changes made by the Australian people?

  5. Is the phrase "Head of State" mentioned in the Australian constitution?

  6. Can I get my own copy of the Australian Constitution?

An Act to constitute The Commonwealth of Australia
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Constitution_Act Our constitution came about as a result of "the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act" being passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This process was necessary as all of the six original states were self-governing colonies of the United Kingdom at the time of federation.

However, the constitution itself was drafted and designed by Australians in Australia. Queen Victoria

proclaimed the Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia on 17 September 1900.

The Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia consists of a preamble, 8 covering clauses, and clause 9 which details the Constitution itself. Some of the provisions in the covering clauses (e.g. clauses 3 and 4) are now spent, that is, they are no longer applicable due to their provisions having been exhausted by time and or events.

If Australia were to become a republic, other clauses - or parts of the clauses - may have to be either amended, removed or contained within the Constitution itself.

Memory Test - An Act to constitute The Commonwealth of Australia
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  1. Was the Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia passed by the Australian Parliament or by the Parliament of the United Kingdom?

  2. Who proclaimed the Act to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia?

  3. When was the Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia proclaimed?

  4. What are the parts that make up the Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia?

  5. Are all of the provisions in the covering clauses still applicable?

The Constitution
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The Constitution is divided into 8 Chapters and a Schedule:

The Parliament

The Executive

The Judicature

Trade and Finance

Click icons above and below to go to appropriate chapters

The States

New States

Miscellaneous

Alteration

The Schedule details the oath or affirmation of allegiance that every Senator and each member of the House of Representatives shall before taking his seat make and subscribe before the Governor-General, or some other person authorised by him, in accordance with Section 42.
Memory Test - The Constitution
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  1. How many chapters are there in the constitution?

  2. What are the specific areas covered by these chapters?

  3. The constitution also includes The Schedule. What is The Schedule and what is its requirement as detailed in Section 42 of the Constitution?

Chapter 1 - The Parliament
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Chapter 1 of the Constitution, which deals with The Parliament, is further divided into 5 parts:
The_Parliament
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Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

General

The Senate

House of Representatives

Both Houses

Powers of the Parliament

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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - The Parliament
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  1. How many parts make up Chapter 1 (The Parliament) of the constitution?

  2. What are the specific areas covered by these parts of Chapter 1?

Chapter 1 - Part 1 - General - ( Section 1 )
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The legislative power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Federal Parliament, and consists of the Queen of Australia, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, and maybe called "The Parliament," or "The Parliament of the Commonwealth."

Parliament

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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 1 - General ( Section 1 )
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  1. The Legislative Power of the Commonwealth is vested in The Parliament of the Commonwealth. What does the Parliament of the Commonwealth consist of?

Chapter 1 - Part 1 - General - ( Section 2 )
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A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty's representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen's pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign him.

Queen and GG

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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 1 - General - ( Section 2 )
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  1. Who represents the Queen in the Commonwealth of Australia?

  2. Who appoints the Queen's representative in the Commonwealth of Australia?

  3. What powers and functions does the Queen's representative in Australia exercise?

Chapter 1 - Part 2 - The Senate
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The Senate

The Senate shall be composed of senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting, until the Parliament otherwise provides, as one electorate.

Senators are chosen for a term of six years, and the names of the senators chosen for each State shall be certified by the Governor to the Governor-General.

The number of senators for each State was increased from 10 to 12 by the Representation Act 1983. It should be noted here that Section 122 of the constitution empowers the Parliament to make laws for the representation of territories in either House of Parliament to the extent and on terms which it thinks fit.

Accordingly, both the Northern Territory and the ACT have each been allocated 2 senators making a total of 76 Senators.

Section 13 requires that the Senators for each State be divided into two classes to meet the rotation requirement so that only half the Senate is elected at each election. The latter does not apply following a dissolution when the entire Senate would require election. Questions arising in the Senate shall be determined by a majority of votes, and each senator shall have one vote. The President shall in all cases be entitled to a vote; and when the votes are equal the question shall pass in the negative.
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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 2 - The Senate
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  1. What is the composition of the Senate and how is it chosen?

  2. What is the term of a Senator?

  3. How many Senators are there for each State?

  4. Is there any representation in the Senate for any of the Australian Territories?

  5. Section 13 of the Constitution makes special provisions for Senators in respect of terms. What is that provision?

  6. When the "yes" and "no" votes in the senate are equal does the question pass in the negative or in the positive?

Chapter 1 - Part 3 - The House of Representatives
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Representatives The House of Representatives is composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth, and the number of such members shall be, as nearly as practicable, twice the number of Senators.

The number of members chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people, and shall be determined in accordance with Section 24 of the Constitution.

The Parliament may make laws for increasing or diminishing the number of members of the House of Representatives.

Questions arising in the House of Representatives shall be determined by a majority of votes other than that of the Speaker.

The Speaker shall not vote unless the numbers are equal, and then he shall have a casting vote.

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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 3 - The House of Representatives
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  1. How is the membership of the House of Representatives composed?

  2. How is the number of members in the House of Representatives determined?

  3. How are the members of the House of Representatives allocated from each State?

  4. Does the Speaker always vote or does he only have a casting vote when the numbers are equal?

Chapter 1 - Part 4 - Both Houses of Parliament
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The Senate Both Houses House
of
Representatives
The Senate

This part deals with the rights of electors of States, the requirement for members of both Houses to subscribe an oath or affirmation of allegiance and the disqualification of members including Section 43 which disallows a member of either House of Parliament of being chosen or of sitting as a member of the other House

.

Other sections of this part cover vacancies on disqualification, penalties, disputed elections, allowances, privileges and rules and orders.

Representatives
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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 4 - Both Houses of Parliament
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  1. Is a senator able of being chosen or of sitting as a member of the House of Representatives?

Chapter 1 - Part 5 - Powers of The Parliament
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Powers

Section 51 details, subject to the Constitution, the legislative powers of The Parliament to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth and covers, amongst other things, Trade and Commerce, Taxation, Naval and Military Defence of the Commonwealth, quarantine, census, currency, naturalisation and aliens and marriage.

Exclusive powers of the Parliament are covered in Section 52, while Section 53 details powers of the Houses in respect of legislation. Appropriation Bills, Tax Bills and the Recommendation of money votes are covered in Sections 54 through 56 while disagreement between the Houses is covered in Section 57.

Sections 58 through 60 deal with the assenting of laws. When a proposed law passed by both House of Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent, he shall declare, according to his discretion, but subject to the Constitution, that he assents in the Queen's name, or he withholds assent, or that he reserves the law for the Queen's pleasure. The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General's assent.

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Memory Test - Chapter 1 - Part 5 - Powers of The Parliament
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  1. What section of the Constitution deals with the legislative powers of The Parliament?

  2. What happens to a proposed law after it has been passed by both House of Parliament?

  3. Can the Queen disallow any law after the Governor-General has assented to it?

Chapter 2 - The Executive Government
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The Executive

The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, and the laws of the Commonwealth. Additionally, a Federal Executive Council advises the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth.

The members of the Council are chosen and summoned by the Governor-General and sworn as Executive Councillors, and shall hold office during his pleasure.

It should be noted that the swearing of Executive Councillors is not required to follow the format of The Schedule. Provisions of the Constitution referring to the "Governor-General in Council" shall be construed as referring to the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish. No Minister of State shall hold office for a longer period than 3 months unless he or she becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. It should also be noted that the term "Prime Minister" is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution and is simply the first, or the leader, of the Ministers for State. The command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General as the Queen's representative.

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Memory Test - Chapter 2 - The Executive Government
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  1. Who is vested with the executive power of the Commonwealth?

  2. Who exercises the executive power of the Commonwealth?

  3. Who advises the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth?

  4. Does a Minister of State have to be a senator or a member of the House of Representatives?

  5. Who is command in chief of the naval and military forces?

Chapter 3 - The Judicature
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The Judicature

The judicial power of the Commonwealth is vested in a Federal Supreme Court which is called the High Court of Australia.

The High Court shall consist of a Chief Justice, and so many other Justices, not less than two, as the Parliament prescribes.

The appointment of a Justice of the High Court shall be for a term expiring upon his attaining the age of seventy years, and a person shall not be appointed as a Justice of the High Court if he has attained that age.

The High Court shall have jurisdiction, with such exceptions and subject to the regulations as the Parliament prescribes, to hear and determine appeals from all judgements, decrees, orders, and sentences as outlined in Section 73. The trial on indictment of any offence against any law of the Commonwealth shall be by jury.

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Memory Test - Chapter 3 - The Executive Government
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  1. What is the name of the court in which the judicial power of the Commonwealth is vested?

  2. May a Justice of the High Court continue his term of appointment on attaining the age of 70?

Chapter 4 - Finance and Trade
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Trade and Finance

The Finance and Trade chapter includes provisions for the Consolidated Revenue Fund and expenditure charged thereon and that no money shall be drawn from the Treasury of the Commonwealth except under appropriation made by law.

Numerous other aspects regarding the States, audit, etc. are outlined in sections 84 through 105A inclusive and also includes the requirement that the Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.

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Memory Test - Chapter 4 - Finance and Trade
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  1. Can money be drawn from the Treasury without appropriation made by law?

Chapter 5 - The States
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The States

Chapter 5 deals with the many aspects of State matters including the very important section 106 which, subject to the Commonwealth Constitution, saves each State constitution until altered in accordance with the requirement of the Constitution of each State.

Other matters include the rights of residents in States and the protection of States by the Commonwealth from invasion and, on the application of Executive Government of the State, against domestic violence.

(Click icon to return to "Constitution" section)
Memory Test - Chapter 5 - The States
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  1. Is the Commonwealth required to protect a State from invasion and against domestice violance?

Chapter 6 - New States
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New_States

The Parliament may admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States, and may upon such admission or establishment make or impose such terms or conditions, including the representation in either House of Parliament, as it thinks fit.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth may, with the consent of the Parliament of a State, and the approval of the majority of the electors of the State voting upon the question, increase, diminish, or otherwise alter the limits of the State.

A new State may be formed by separation of territory from a State, but only with the consent of the Parliament thereof, and a new State may be formed by the union of two or more States or parts of States, but only with the consent of the Parliaments of the States affected.

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Memory Test - Chapter 6 - New States
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  1. May the Parliament admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States?

  2. May a new State be formed by the union of two or more States?

Chapter 7 - Miscellaneous
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Miscellaneous

Chapter 7 originally contained sections 125 through 127. Section 127 which read "In the reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted" was repealed by the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal) 1967 referendum.

Section 125 which deals with the seat of Government of the Commonwealth is now spent.

Section 126 gives the Queen the power to authorize the Governor-General to appoint deputies. The Letters Patent relating to the Office of Governor-General should be read in conjunction with this section.

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Memory Test - Chapter 7 - Miscellaneous
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  1. Section 127, which read "In the reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted", was repealed. In what year was this Section repealed?

  2. Can the Governor-General appoint deputies and who athourises?

  3. What document should be read in conjunction with Section 126?

Chapter 8 - Alteration of The Constitution
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Alteration

Section 128 is the only section in Chapter 8. Although it is the last item in the Constitution it is probably the most important as it outlines the method by which the Constitution may be changed.

Once a law to amend the Constitution has been passed by both Houses it is then to be put to the electors in each State and Territory qualified to vote for the election of the House of Representatives.

And if in a majority of States a majority of the electors voting approve the proposed law, and if a majority of all the electors voting also approve the proposed law, it shall be presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent.

However, other aspects relating to State matters, e.g. altering the limits of a State or perhaps the role of the Crown in State Constitutions, detailed in the penultimate paragraph of Section 128 may require that a majority of the electors voting in that State also approve the proposed law.

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Memory Test - Chapter 8 - Alteration of The Constitution
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  1. In amending the Constitution is it only required to obtain a majority of voters throughout Australia to approve the proposed law?

  2. If the referendum question pertains to certain State matters, i.e. altering the limits of a State, do a majority of electors in that State have to also approve the proposed law?

Other Acts relating to The Constitution
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Two Acts of Parliament that relate to
the Australian Constitution are:

Westminster Adoption Act 1942 Australia Act 1986
An Act to remove Doubts as to the Validity of certain Commonwealth Legislation, to obviate Delays occurring in its Passage, and to effect certain related purposes, by adopting certain Sections of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, as from the Commencement of the War between His Majesty the King and Germany. An Act to bring constitutional arrangements affecting the Commonwealth and the States into conformity with the status of the Commonwealth of Australia as a sovereign, independent and federal nation.
Memory Test - Other Acts relating to The Constitution
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  1. What are the names of the Acts that relate to the Constitution of the Commonwealth?

Are there any other Acts that would have to be changed?
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Should Australia become a republic will there be a need to change
either the Statute of Westminster and/or the Australia Act?

Westminster Adoption Act 1942 Australia Act 1986
The Constitution may have to be altered, in accordance with Section 128, to confer on the Commonwealth Parliament (a) power to repeal or amend Section 8 of the Statute of Westminster to the extent necessary for the purpose of repealing or amending the preamble or covering clauses of the Constitution Act in the terms approved at a referendum under Section 128, and (b) power to enact such repeals or amendments accordingly (to come into force immediately after commencement of the repeal or amendment in (a)) Section 7 of the Australia Act 1986 makes provisions for the Powers and Functions of Her Majesty and Governors in respect of States. Clearly, and for the States to become republics in their own right, Section 7 would have to be repealed or amended in accordance with Section 15 of the Australia Act 1986. That is, repealed or amended by an Act of the Parliament of the Commonwealth passed at the request or with the concurrence of the Parliaments of all of the States or by the conferring of a power on the Parliament of the Commonwealth by any alteration to the Constitution of the Commonwealth made in accordance with Section 128 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth.
Memory Test - Are there any other Acts that would have to be changed?
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Should Australia become a republic will there be a need to change
either the Statute of Westminster and/or the Australia Act?
  1. How may the Australia Act and the Statute of Westminster Act be amended or repealed?

The End
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This is the end of the Beginner's Guide to the Australian Constitution
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