Winning Entries to the 2008 Regional Essay Competition
2008 Division 1 (16 - 18 years) Winner
Tahnee Little (Centenary Heights State High School)
"How was the Australian Constitution drafted and approved? Was this unusual?"
Australia has always been a unique country. It is the only island continent. The relatively small population of the six English colonies occupied a total land area of 7,617,930 square kilometres. South Australia alone was four times the size of France. Australia was like no other nation on earth. Such a unique country could not simply follow conventions set forth by older, 'wiser' countries. What Australia needed was something new and innovative, tailored to fit such a remarkable people and landscape. The Australian Constitution adopted in 1901 was the answer to this need, the answer that led Australia into a new era as a nation of united people.
From the very outset, Australia's Constitution was unique. Unlike so many other countries, its beginnings were not founded on war and aggression. America created their constitution after a revolutionary war, South Africa on the heels of bitter tribal conflict and racial segregation, and Indonesia after their liberation from the Dutch. Instead, the motivation for the joining of the self-governed Australian colonies was to improve defence, the economy, and also control immigration. The idea of Federation gained much momentum, and as a result a National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney, in 1891. The next ten years were spent holding 'peoples' conventions, attended by delegates elected by the people of Australia. They were responsible for the long process of drafting, and redrafting the historic document. Finally the Constitution was voted on and approved by the Australian people, and then presented to Queen Victoria in 1900. Her signature of Royal assent declared the Commonwealth of Australia to be officially created on January 1, 1901. However, the significant achievement lay not only in the act of Federation, but also in the level of involvement and participation of the Australian people in the whole process. No other country has matched it. The Australian Constitution was truly written by the people, for the people.
The approved Constitution was a unique blend of legislation from Britain, United States, Canada and Switzerland. Consequently, it is unlike any existing constitution. The idea of amendment through public approval was taken from the Swiss Constitution. The Australian Constitution states that for any amendment to take place, it must first pass unanimously through both houses (or one house twice) and then be passed by a referendum of the people. Only eight out of the forty-four proposed amendments have been passed in over one hundred years of Federation. This is a convincing testament to the stability and longevity of the Constitution, and the popular support it has earned from everyday Australians. This approach is vastly different to America, where amendments only need to pass through two-thirds of both houses of Congress. The people of America have no direct say regarding amendments. As a result, the American Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times, including the Bill of Rights. We should not take for granted the gift our founding generation has given us through our strong, stable, constitution.
It is said that Canada's situation most closely resembles that of Australia. Both were originally colonies under British rule, and both sought independence peacefully. However, when it came to drawing up a Constitution, Canada chose a path that led to a strong central government. This meant that the government had a much tighter grip on the way the states were run; indeed it stole much of their identity. Australia however, wished to maintain the individuality of the states, and so the constitution we adopted was much more federal. This meant the Federal Government was still strong, yet the state governments retained significant powers of their own. This paradigm was much more suitable for such a vast country where the cities were separated by such large distances. It allowed the different states to maintain their individuality - to even engage in a level of friendly rivalry. Where would we be without our "State of Origin" football matches? The Constitution displays a deep level of understanding of Australian culture and identity and this has allowed our nation to preserve the very essence of what makes us Australian. Another fundamental difference in our Constitution is that we elect a party to government, while other constitutions such as that of the United States (Republic) allow for the direct election of their executive. Our system helps to ensure that we have a government that is both strong and responsible- a legacy drawn from the influence of the British monarchical constitution.
It is not only the document itself that is unique; it is the history behind the Australian Constitution that singles it out as such a significant achievement for the Australian people. The careful process of development ensured that the end result was customised to fit our remarkable country. United together, under the banner of their new constitution, the colonies stepped into the twentieth century as a nation, ready to take its place on the world stage, prepared for whatever could be thrown its way.
- Australian Republic Unplugged, 2008, Australian Constitution, viewed 4th May 2008, www.statusquo.org/aru_beginguide/index.html
- Constitution of the United States of America, viewed 5th May 2008, www.heartbone.com/no_thugs/constitution.htm
- National Archives of Australia, 2005, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), viewed 4th May 2008, www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?sdID=82
- Parliamentary Education Office, 2007, Closer Look: The Australian Constitution, viewed 4th May 2008, www.peo.gov.au/students/cl/constitution.html
- ABC online, 1998, Constitution Comparison, viewed 5th May 2008, www.abc.net.au/concon/compare/whycons.htm
- The University of Sydney, 2008, Australian Federation, viewed 5th May 2008, setis.library.usyd.edu.au/pubotbin/toccer-new?id=fed0011.sgml&images=&data=/usr/ot&tag=fed&part=1&division=div
- M D Kirby, 1997, Alfred Deakin Remembered, viewed 5th May 2008, www.hcourt.gov.au/speeches/kirbyj/kirbyj_deakin2.htm
- Burton,1994, Australia’s Constitution: Ours Alone, viewed 4th May www.norepublic.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=133&Itemid=26
2008 Division 2 (11 - 15 years) Winner
Hannah Mathewson (Centenary Heights State High School, Toowoomba)
"Do you think Prince William and Prince Harry should be following their father Prince Charles in his work for the disadvantaged and the environment? Which projects with Prince Charles' involvement do you like best?"
Prince Charles has addressed some major issues and tried to do everything within his power to improve them, such as the environment, disadvantaged youth and the need for community planning on a human scale. The Prince has played a major role in trying to change our world for the better, and obviously shows that through his keen interest in the charities which he supports and the issues which he champions. He is currently working with a foundation called The Prince's Charities which he presides over. It is a group of 19 not-for-profit-organisations which Prince Charles passionately supports. 16 of the 19 charities, Prince Charles himself founded.
I strongly believe that Prince William and Harry should carry on their Father's great work for the disadvantaged and the environment as it is a fantastic opportunity to make a substantial difference in the world in which we live. They both should continue the work of their father, but if the need arises or as new issues become apparent, this work could be expanded.
The Prince already raises £119 million for his charities annually and that is a vast amount of money to give to the people who really need it. It must be stressed that not one penny of this money goes to the Prince's own personal wealth.
One of the main charities that I personally think should be continued is The Prince's Trust. The Prince's Trust was created to help young people overcome hardships and to get their lives back on track, working to their best potential.
The charity gives practical support including training, mentoring and financial assistance. It helps people from early teens to 30 year olds realise their abilities in a variety of fields which can dramatically change their lives for the better.
The Trust focuses its efforts on young people who have struggled at school, have been in care, are long-term unemployed or have been in trouble with the law. As more and more youth are brought up in difficult situations, there is an ever greater need for an organization such as the Prince's Trust. Prince Charles realised this when he founded this organisation in 1976. Through the great work of this charity, 550 000 peoples' lives have been changed and influenced in such a way that they can now fit into and cope with today's society and be positive contributors to it. As mentioned previously, this foundation should be carried on for as long as possible to make our world an even better place. In our world, disadvantaged youth have sometimes nowhere to turn, but with this foundation there is someone who cares and someone who can show a way out of a difficult situation.
Through The Prince's Trust, which is only one of the 19 charities Prince Charles supports, vast numbers of people have benefited. Add to this his other charitable work and one realises the incredible difference his life has made to countless others. Hopefully, the work he has commenced will be carried on by Princes William and Harry and for the good of future generations.
- The Prince of Wales, viewed April 10th, 14th and 17th, www.princeofwales.gov.uk/
- The official website of the…British Monarchy, viewed April 10th, 14th and 17th www.royal.gov.uk/
- Members of the Royal Family, viewed April 10th and 17th www.royalinsight.gov.uk/output/Page5567.asp
- Picsearch, viewed April 17th www.picsearch.com/search.cgi?q=Prince+Charles&cols=6&thumbs=18