Winning Entries to the 2001 Essay Competition
2001 ACM Essay Competition (Junior) Winner
Carissa Andrews, Grade 7 (age 11) Harlaxton State School
On the 1st of January 2001, Australia's Constitution became exactly 100 years old. The Australian Constitution is our most important founding document. It is an enduring symbol of our democracy. Federation Day, January 1901, focused on one set of celebrations that self-consciously paraded national pride in an inauguration ceremony held in Melbourne. It was really the story of a popular event, less a story of the culmination of a completed political process. Of course, there are many versions of the Federation story. There was a wide range of celebratory events held in other cities and country towns across the new Commonwealth. Federation was the story of many participants including those including who were actively opposed to the whole thing. It is the story also of those whom were consciously excluded from the process of the nation building. Sadly, at the start only white Australians were included in the process.
Our Constitution came to life on the day the separate colonies of Australia joined together to form a federated nation on the 1st January 1901. This meant that a national government, led by a Prime Minister, became the countries more important government.
However, the British monarch remained the head of state, with a Governor-General appointed to represent the British monarch in Australia. The Governor-General provided a link with Britain, but during the century this role became more and more ceremonial. Under our Constitution, the role of the Governor-General is mostly ceremonial. Representing the Queen, the Governor-General doesn't participate directly in the making of political decisions. However, there are several important functions that he carries out. The Governor-Generals are required to sign all government legislation and they host official functions. They also [represent] Australia overseas when needed. They open each session of parliament and swear in new government ministers. If a Prime Minister wants to have an election before it's officially due, the Governor-General has to give permission. Also, the Governor-General is officially Australia's commander-in-chief, the person in charge of the defence force.
What is so special about our 100-year constitution? Well, to me, the most significant thing is that we created a Federation without war or bloodshed. We were not like other countries, which had to fight for their own freedom. Australia looked at other constitutions and used the best of these to create a unique one of our own.
2001 ACM Essay Competition (Senior) Winner
David Webster, Year 10 (age 14) Oakey State High School
Division 2, Topic 3
What is special about Australia's 100 year old Constitution? This question can be answered through a large number of points, including: the fact that the constitution was written by the people for the people; its demonstration of lasting stability and security; and the roles of the Queen and the Governor-General.
It is true to say that the Australian constitution was written by the people for the people. Although some say that the constitution was written 'by the bigwigs for the bigwigs', the fact that a nation-wide referendum was held on the subject cannot be overlooked. The circumstances under which our constitution was written and voted for are part of what makes it unique. A series of Federal Conventions were held drafting the constitution, while in between, delegates returned home and considered local input and suggestions, taking them to the next conventions, where they were considered for inclusion. Thus input from the general public played a large role in the drafting of the constitution and it allowed the the points of view of people from different backgrounds to be contemplated and moderated for the good of the nation. The referendum that followed allowed the people of the participating states to express their opinions of the proposed constitution. New amendments were made making the draft more suitable and again it went to the polls. This time it was passed in all states except Western Australia (which did not participate), and a delegation was sent to London for British approval. In the end, 'people power' won out in Western Australia, as the public protested against the way their government had excluded them from the process, so Western Australia joined the Commonwealth delegation (Webster's, 1997). The Constitution Bill was approved on July 9, 1990, and the official proclamation was made on September 17.
The Australian Constitution has, among many other things, demonstrated outstanding stability and security and also comparative timelessness. The low number of proposed and eventual amendments made to the constitution after Federation offers good proof of this statement. Before the 1999 republic debate, only forty-four proposals for change to the constitution had been made, along with eight actual changes (www.statusquo.org). Comparing this with the fact that at the first sitting of the Parliament of the United States of America alone, 103 changes were proposed (Microsoft, 1994), one has to admit that our constitution was well and suitably written. It still manages to demonstrate this attribute, looking at the few changes that have been made over these past 100 years. The matter within the Australian Constitution, although written in the nineteenth century, is still (for the most part) fully relevant to life and its issues in Australia today. The constitution has survived well during war, depression and political crisis, guiding our government surly, and continues to do so.
Another significant point in the singularity of the Australian Constitution, is the role of both the Queen and the Governor-General. Their roles within the Commonwealth of Australia are often mistaken. It is often (wrongly) said that the Queen is Australia's Head of State. In reality, her role is restricted to that of Sovereign and figurehead, vested (ie. the authority furnished) of executive power. In fact, it is the Governor-general who holds the role of Head of State, exercising executive power as the Queen's representative as per Section 61 of the Constitution. Within these duties, he has many duties within parliament, especially at election times, as well as approving legislation in the Queen's name. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force (a more ceremonial role). He must also perform many civil ceremonial duties including state visits, diplomatic visits, investitures, and opening Parliament. Also, he is involved in many things that encourage and represent things that unite Australians as the nation that we are today. Although her role within the Commonwealth is mainly ceremonial, the Queen also is an important figurehead, a 'rallying point' for many Australians.
As can be seen, there are many aspects that make the Australian Constitution unique among all those worldwide. This is because of its background leading to its present and lasting stability as well as the roles played by those at the head of executive government. Indeed, it is these factors that contribute to make Australia's Constitution so special.
Australian Electoral Commission (1999) Yes/No - Referendum '99
Australian Republic Unplugged (online) 7 Sept. 2001 http://www.statusquo.org
Constitution of the United States (1994) in Microsoft Encarta (CD-ROM) Microsoft Corporation: New York
Governor-General's Role (online) (Courtesy of the Australian Government Website) 7 Sept. 2001 http://www.gaiaguys.net/GG role.html
Smith, D. 'Our Australian Head of State' (online) 8 Sept. 2001 http://www.ausconstitution.org/
Webster's Encyclopaedia of Australia (1997) (CD-ROM) Webster Publishing.