The Australian Constitution: Overview

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On the 1st January 1901 Australia became one nation. Prior to this Australia consisted of six separate colonies who all answered to British authority. The British government then passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK) and federation was achieved. The British government had provided Australia with a constitution which was a set of rules which the government had to follow in order to run the country. Parts of the constitution include the division of power between the different levels of government and the establishment of the High Court.

Australia is a constitutional monarch. This is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state and because the British monarchy still plays a role in the Australian parliament, the government has a Governor-General. The Governor-General is the representative of the monarch or head of state (now Queen Elizabeth II). He or she exercises the supreme power of the Commonwealth. The constitution grants the Governor-General a wide range of powers. The most important power the Governor-General has is found in section 58 of the constitution. “When a proposed law passed by both Houses of Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent, he shall declare ... that he assents in the Queen's name." This means they have the power to decide which laws come into force.

The constitution divides up the powers between the federal government and the states. This is covered in Chapter 1, Part V in sections 51 to 60. It specifies the legislative powers of the federal parliament which enables them to make laws. Section 52 outlines the exclusive powers of the federal government. The state parliament was given residual powers, these are the remaining matters which are not referred to in the constitution on which the states can legislate.

The federal parliament was given the power to make laws on all matters listed in section 51. The state government can also make laws in many of the...
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