Australian Government/The Commonwealth Constitution

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The Australian Constitution is actually the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, which was passed through the United Kingdom Parliament. It provided the new system of government for the new federation, which consisted at its inception on 1 January 1901 of the former separate colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Head of State


The Act vested authority in the Queen, making her the Australian head of state similar to other Commonwealth Realms. In 1973, the monarch was formally designated as 'Queen of Australia'. A representative of the Queen was provided for, known as the Governor-General, who in practice fulfils most of the roles normally possessed by a head of state. Some consider the Governor-General of Australia to be the de facto head of state as the British monarch rarely exercises the reserve powers that the constitution grants to the Crown; however the constitution makes clear that the Governor-General is in no sense a head of state, merely a head of state's representative who in the name of the head of state, or in his own name as representative of the head of state, carries out specified functions and exercises certain powers.



Section 1 (of Chapter I) provided that the legislative power was to be vested in Federal parliament, known as the 'Parliament of the Commonwealth', consisting of the Queen, an upper house, called the Senate, and a lower house, called the 'House of Representatives.

Executive Authority


According to Section 61 (of Chapter II):

"the executive power of the Commonweath 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 this Constitution, and the laws of the Commonweath."

Article 62 provided for a Federal Executive Council to 'advise' the Governor-General in the governance of the Commonwealth. Though the language indicated that the Executive Council was answerable to the Governor-General, in reality it is answerable to the House of Representatives, though the fact that the Senate possesses the power to withdraw Supply complicates the situation, given that loss of Supply in parliamentary democracies has the most severe implications for a government, given that it in theory should either resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution, should Supply be lost or not granted. See:The Commonwealth Executive.

The Judiciary


The judicial power of the Commonwealth was vested by Section 71 of Chapter III in a federal supreme court to be called the High Court of Australia. It was to be presided over by a Chief Justice. See:The Judiciary

The States


Section 106 of Chapter V provided for the continuation of the constitutions of the various states, subject to the provisions of the federal constitution.

Amendments to the Constitution


Section 128 of Chapter VIII provided that constitutional amendments required

  • "an absolute majority in both houses of the federal parliament"
  • "the approval in a plebiscite of the proposed amendment by a majority of electors nationwide, and a majority in a majority of the states."