Opinion Piece - Let’s restore our connection to the Constitution

Should our states ban booze? Are your Senators and Members of Parliament deserving of a 400 pounds annual salary? And why can “persons of any race” be barred from voting here in elections?

These are just some of the questions raised after a closer look at Australia’s Constitution. And it’s clear that this crucial document no longer represents our modern Australia.

Section 113 of the Constitution allows the states to impose prohibition of “intoxicating liquids” within their borders. Good luck with that.

Have a look at Section 48, and you will see that Senators and Members of Parliament should be paid 400 pounds per year. Perhaps it’s a bit much for Senators?

Sadly, Section 25 of our Constitution still says that “persons of any race” may be disqualified from voting in elections - another relic of the White Australia era our Constitution was drafted in.

It’s not good enough. We are better than this.

And yet we the people of Australia, for whom the Constitution was written and confers rights, are not mentioned in our founding document.

Nor of course are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who have inhabited our continent for tens of thousands of years.

The Australian Constitution is not even an Australian document.

It’s part of a British act of their Parliament - Section 9 of the British Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.

But the biggest anomaly about the Australian Constitution is that the person who sits atop our system of Government is not even an Australian. They are a foreigner.

Under the Australian Constitution the Australian people are not sovereign as they should be - a ruling foreign monarch is, and the Australian people are her subjects.

Did you know that the Queen’s royal style and title in Australia is ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth’?

Surely we have enough pride and self-belief to finally recognise that an Australian is worthy of being our Head of State and the Australian people should be the primary focus of our system of government.

Some say the Governor General is our Head of State. This is not true.

The Governor General swears an oath of allegiance to the Queen upon taking office, reinforcing the fact the Queen truly is Australia’s Head of State and sovereign under our system of Government.

We must begin a serious discussion about our Constitution and its relevance to our people and our country.

Clearly our nation’s founders who wrote the Constitution believed we would have the courage and foresight to regularly consult the Australian people about maintaining a document that is relevant to the lives of Australians.

That is why they included section 128 as a mechanism to update our Constitution.

But this has not occurred since 1977 and from 1999 to present day is the longest Australia has gone without the government asking the Australian people their views of the Constitution through a referendum.

Governments have become spooked by failed referenda in the past and now don’t even bother. 

The Turnbull Government’s lack of commitment to recognition of indigenous Australians in our Constitution and a discussion about a republic is evidence of this.

The result is, unsurprisingly, most Australians know very little about our Constitution and the system of government it provides for.

A recent survey worryingly showed the majority of Australians don’t know who our Head of State is. 

With 52 per cent indicating our Head of State is either the Prime Minister or the Governor General, it is somewhat encouraging that the natural inclination of Australians is to choose one of us over a foreigner, but I suspect the citizens of other countries don’t confuse who their Head of State is.

We need to recognise as a nation that our Constitution is important and it should reflect who we are.

This will require leadership to put Constitutional reform back on the agenda in Australia.

Bill Shorten has committed Labor to three important discussions about our Constitution if we are elected at the next election - indigenous recognition, an Australian republic and four year terms for the Commonwealth Parliament. 

These reforms are long overdue and it is important we begin discussing them now if we are to successfully implement them.

For Australians to have more pride in our Constitution we need to understand it.  Labor is committed to educating our citizens and discussing the Australian Constitution to ensure it is relevant and reflects the strong, independent nation we have become.

Let’s work together to restore pride in our nation’s most important document.

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