Constitutional Law Fact Sheets

Learn about the Constitution

Constitution Q&A

Do you have a question about the Constitution? Send it to the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies. Our e-mail address is law-cccs@unimelb.edu.au. You will get an answer. 

Constitutional Forms and Values

Q: Does the Constitution have a preamble? 

A: No. But the Australian Constitution was originally passed by the British Parliament, because Australia was a colony at the time. This means that the Australian Constitution is part of a British Act of Parliament. There is a preamble to the British Act. You can find it at the beginning of most copies of the Constitution. 

Q: What is a preamble? 

A: A preamble is an introduction to a Constitution. A preamble often sets out the main purposes of the Constitution, or says something about its history. If there is disagreement about the meaning of other parts of the Constitution, the preamble can be used to help to decide what the correct meaning is. 

The Head of State

Q: Who is the Australian Head of State? 

A: Queen Elizabeth II. The Governor-General and the State Governors represent her in Australia however. They now act as Head of State for most purposes.

Representative Democracy

Q: Does the Constitution give Australian citizens a right to vote? 

A: There is no express right to vote in the Constitution. The Constitution does say, however, that the Commonwealth Parliament must be "chosen directly by the people". If the issue arose, the High Court might well say that this implies that citizens have a right to vote.

Rights

Q: Can State Constitutions be changed without asking the voters directly? 

A: A referendum is necessary in order to change parts of some State Constitutions. As a general rule, however, State Constitutions can be changed by State Parliaments. This is quite different to the Australian Constitution, which can only be changed by referendum.

Citizenship

Q: Can someone who is a citizen of another country as well as Australia stand for election to the Commonwealth Parliament? 

A: Generally not. The Constitution says that people who are citizens of a "foreign power" cannot stand for election. Any other country is a "foreign power" for this purpose. Some countries do not allow their nationals to give up citizenship, however. To deal with this, the High Court has said that a person who has taken "reasonable" steps to renounce another citizenship will be able to stand for Parliament here.

Federalism

Q: Is the Northern Territory a State? 

A: No. The Territory is "self-governing", which means that it has its own government and Parliament. It does not have the same independence under the Constitution as the six States have, however. 

Courts

Q: How are judges chosen? 

A: The Commonwealth and each State has its own courts. The relevant government decides who will be appointed as judges to those courts. The actual appointment is made by the Governor-General or the State Governor, acting on the government's advice.

Indigenous People

Q: Is the Constitution relevant to the process of reconciliation? 

A: It could be. If we reached the stage where we agreed on a treaty or some other instrument of reconciliation, it could be recognised in the Constitution. The idea of making an appropriate reference to the indigenous people in the preamble is relevant to reconciliation too. 

Constitutional Review and Change

Q: Can State Constitutions be changed without asking the voters directly? 

A: A referendum is necessary in order to change parts of some State Constitutions. As a general rule, however, State Constitutions can be changed by State Parliaments. This is quite different to the Australian Constitution, which can only be changed by referendum.

Fact Sheets

These fact sheets contain information about the Australian Constitution and constitutional system. They were prepared by the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies for the The Constitutional Centenerary Foundation in 2000.

WARNING: They have not been updated since then and may be out-of-date. 

  • Fact Sheet 1.1 - About Constitutions
  • Fact Sheet 1.2 - About Australia's Constitutions  
  • Fact Sheet 1.3 - The Making of Australia's Constitutions
  • Fact Sheet 1.4 - Key Constitutional Terms
  • Fact Sheet 1.5 - Australia's Independence
  • Fact Sheet 1.6 - The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act
  • Fact Sheet 1.7 - Australia's Constitutional Preamble
  • Fact Sheet 1.8 - Preambles in Other Countries
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - State Constitutions
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - NSW State Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - QLD State Constitution 
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - SA State Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - Tas State Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - Vic State Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 1.9 - WA State Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 2.1 - The Head of State in Australia
  • Fact Sheet 2.2 - The Role of the Head of State
  • Fact Sheet 2.3 - Other Models for a Head of State
  • Fact Sheet 2.4 - Designing a Republic Model for Australia
  • Fact Sheet 2.5 - A Republic and the States

Fact Sheet 2.6 - Amending the Constitution for a Republic

  • Fact Sheet 3.1 - What Parliaments do
  • Fact Sheet 3.2 - Responsible Government in Australia
  • Fact Sheet 3.3 - The House of Representatives
  • Fact Sheet 3.4 - The Senate
  • Fact Sheet 3.5 - Relations between Houses of Parliament
  • Fact Sheet 3.6 - The Executive
  • Fact Sheet 4.1 - Protecting Rights
  • Fact Sheet 4.4 - Freedom of Speech
  • Fact Sheet 5.1 - Citizenship
  • Fact Sheet 5.2 - Citizenship in Australia
  • Fact Sheet 5.3 - Citizenship in the Australian System
  • Fact Sheet 6.6 - The Scope of Commonwealth Powers and External Affairs
  • Fact Sheet 6.7 - New States
  • Fact Sheet 6.8 - The Position of the Territories
  • Fact Sheet 7.3 - The Appointment of Judges
  • Fact Sheet 7.4 - The Role of Judges
  • Fact Sheet 8.1 - The Indigenous People's of Australia and the Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 8.2 - Section 25 of the Constitution
  • Fact Sheet 9.1 - Changing the Australian Constitution