Finemore Collection

The Finemore Collection consists of a set of records relating to the activities of the Australian Constitutional Convention (ACC) which met from 1973-1985

The collection includes working papers, reports, correspondence, press clippings, photographs, meeting minutes and other documents. It was compiled by John Finemore, former Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Constitutional Convention. Some related records are held by the National Archives of Australia.

Introduction to the Finemore Collection

Since the Australian Constitution came into effect more than 100 years ago, there have been four major processes of comprehensive constitutional review. One of these is the Australian Constitutional Convention (ACC), the bulk of the records of which are held at Melbourne Law School.

The ACC is unique, in the sense that it is the only Australian constitutional review body that comprised representatives of both Commonwealth and all State Parliaments and participants from all sides of politics. The Convention met in successive sessions from 1973-1985 and remained formally in existence until 1993. It thus coincided with one of the most volatile times in Australian history, covering the heady years of the Whitlam government, which culminated in the dismissal of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and his replacement by Malcolm Fraser, initially in caretaker mode; the period of new federalism under the elected Fraser government; and the early years of the Hawke government, which included the dispute over the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam in Tasmania. Some of the interest of the records lies in the fact that representatives from all jurisdictions and all parties were engaged in deliberations on the Constitution throughout this period, offering yet another perspective on some of the most significant events in Australian history.

Significantly also, the last three constitutional referendums to be approved at referendum in Australia were held during this time, in 1977,in response to Convention resolutions. After more than a quarter of a century during which successive referendums have been rejected, the experience of the ACC merits understanding for this reason alone.

The Archives include not only full sets of the published proceedings of the Convention and reports of its committees but also most of the papers generated by the Convention secretariat. It is thus an indispensable resource for research on the process of constitutional review in Australia. Insofar as the Convention is a response to the particular problems of constitutional change that arise in a federation, the records may be of international interest to scholars of federalism as well. In addition, because the Convention dealt with a wide range of issues during the 13 years of its active operation, the records assist with the understanding of these. Some of the substantive issues examined by the Convention, which remain relevant and topical today, include fiscal federalism; constitutional recognition of local government; the creation of new States; the constitutional position of the territories; the external affairs power; the structure of the Australian court system; advisory opinions; the relationship between the Senate and the House of Representatives; and the process of constitutional change itself.

The ACC Archives were retained and maintained by the University of Melbourne on the initiative of the Chief Executive Officer of the Convention, John Finemore QC, OBE, AO, with the approval of the ACC Council. John Finemore also was the first Chief Parliamentary Counsel of Victoria; a position that he held with great distinction from 1970 until his retirement in 1984. The relationship between the University and the ACC in some ways was fortuitous. As a young researcher Cheryl Saunders, later a professor in the Law School, was interested in intergovernmental relations and constitutional change, which drew her to the Convention secretariat. She served initially as secretary to the Victorian Delegation to the ACC and then as an occasional officer in the secretariat itself, assisting Convention committees. When the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies was formed, with Cheryl Saunders as the founding director, it became the natural home for the Convention records. The records were professionally archived in 1998, by Heather McRae, under the leadership of Anne Mullins, then a research fellow with the CCCS. The Law School is now seeking to digitise the Archives, to make them as widely available as possible. The CCCS remains a focal point within Australia for research on Australian and comparative constitutional change.

Materials in the Collection

 The Finemore Collection includes:

  • Historical background files
  • Steering Committee files
  • Executive Committee files
  • Standing Committee files
  • Rolls of delegates
  • Minutes
  • Printed proceedings, reports and papers
  • Audiotapes of proceedings
  • Press releases
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Photographs
  • Bibliographies and reference material
  • Documents outlining the origins and achievements of the ACC
  • Correspondence.

Access to the Finemore Collection

The collection is housed on level 4 of the Law Library. To access the collection, please see staff at the information desk on Level 3 between 8.30am–5.00pm, Monday – Friday.

Using the Collection

To use the collection, consult the following guide: Heather McRae and Anne Mullins, Australian Constitutional Convention 1973-1985: A Guide to the Archives, (Melbourne: Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, The University of Melbourne, 1998).
Copies of this guide are available with the materials and at UniM Law High Use KM 37 K1 MCRA. Please note items in the Finemore Collection are not included in the library catalogue. The guide lists and describes each series of documents in the collection, which are identified by the prefix 'ACC' and a number. For example, Rolls of Delegates are identified by the series number ACC 17.

Digitised Materials

Key items from the collection have been digitised with the permission of the copyright holders, and are available in electronic format using the links below:

Australian Constitutional Convention 1973-1985 - a Guide to the Archives
Australian Constitutional Convention - Final Report - Full Report
Australian Constitutional Convention - Final Report - Summary

Some other records relating to the Australian Constitutional Conventions are held at the National Archives of Australia. See http://www.naa.gov.au/naaresources/publications/research_guides/guides/sound/pages/chapter05.htm

(scroll down to 'Australian Constitutional Convention').

Copies of the debates and proceedings of the constitutional and federal conventions of the 1890s are available in both the Finemore Collection and the Law Rare Book Collection.