CONSTITUTION - PREAMBLE
the Preamble to Australia’s Constitution is under consideration now
only because of the Republican surge. Investigations in 1927 and 1973 on
reforms to the document gave the matter no thought..
insertions, therefore, deserve to be considered in terms of how they fit
with the national movement away from a belief that some people are born
to rule. The Republican ideal is that sovereignty derives from the
citizenry, not from gods, a clerisy, the military or landed proprietors.
Howard is hoping to piggyback his prejudices on the popularity of a
republic. Yet each of his four points for a Preamble is partisan, an
attempt to make his ideas appear consensual.
prime minister has scrambled controversial points from theology,
prehistory, jurisprudence and political science. We, the people, are yet
to be told how these precepts will be worded. Indeed, we may learn that
the list has changed, again. Two weeks ago, Federalism was in but then
dropped out in favour of equality between men and women before the law.
Howard’s preamble is meaningless, and hence a waste of our time, or he
intends its items to be taken seriously and therefore needs to be
approached with caution. Had our Founding Fathers gone in for
‘inspirational and aspirational’ wordsmithing, we might have had
White Australia in the Constitution and not just as the Immigration Act
for sixty years.
Australian framers followed Canadian and US precedents by not invoking a
higher power until battered by parsons alleging that its omission would
be ‘unparalleled in all history except in the dark annals of the
French Revolution’. The delegate heading the drive for an
acknowledgment of God confessed in his diary that its inclusion in the
draft of March 1898 had been ‘chiefly intended to secure greater
support from a large number of voters’. His opponents still feared
that to mention God was to encourage bigotry.
the Prime minister favours adding a ‘commitment to God’, a form of
words which would collide with Section 116:
commitment were opinion or action, that usage would become entanged with
these protections. The prime minister should look at all of the
Constitution, and also J. A. La Nauze’s 1972 The
Making of the Australian Constitution.
to the supernatural as the source of political rights and obligations
offends the Republican principle that power, freedom and justice are
human creations and responsibilities. The monarch’s claim to be
divinely appointment shortened the walk between regicide and deicide.
most strenuous defences of the liberties of Australian citizens have not
been any Almighty or parliamentary representatives but came through
direct democracy with the defeat of the two Conscription ballots in 1916
and 1917 and of the 1951 Communist Party Dissolution Act. On those three
occasions, Howard’s political forebears were bested by the popular
With half of the Constitution detailing how ‘representative
democracy’ is to operate, there is no need to gild its gold. Elevation
of that aspect but not the rule of law looks like a sop to One-Nation
ignorance about judicial review, a snide swipe against the High Court.
Since the Constitution mandates the appointment of a Chief Justice but
not of a prime minister, why is his Preamble raising the executive above
along with supporters of the minimalist model for a republic, does not
want to preserve not representative democracy so much as the
unrepresentative regime of the executive arm.
prime minister has even less aspiration to inspire Australians to extend
democratic principles into workplaces or throughout society. His
emphasis on representative democracy is in line with those security
police who consider as subversive even constitutional attempts to
redistribute economic power, thereby providing a genuine common wealth.
Equality of men and women before
regarding vocabulary were apparent in the variants used to report
Howard’s proposal: sexual equality, gender equality, and equality for
men and women. The last sounds the safest until you try to specify the
differences. Are they biological, cultural or some mixture? These
problems will not go away by using sex for a biological inheritance and
gender for a social-cultural outcome.
are the problem, not any solution. Lets hope that the wording about God
does not require a personal pronoun.
before the law is a partisan approach to gender equity. Is the law
before which men and women will be equal to be decided by Black Letter
judges or by those who consider social circumstances? Campaigners for
women’s rights condemn the former for ignoring the social forces that
have made the genders unequal before they get to court.
equality before the law revives the One Nation prejudice that everyone
be treated the same. That approach restricts equality in the manner
satirised by Anatole France: The law in its majestic impartiality
forbids both rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges and to steal
even a promise of social equality between men and women would not
redress other sources of injustice, notably those of class or ethnicity.
nullius never stated
that this continent had been unoccupied before the British government
set up another of its prisons here. True, black rhetoricians and
slovenly scholars still prattle about terra
nullius as an error of fact rather than a doctrine requiring legal
and property systems compatible with British assumptions. Mabo and Wik
rebutted a view that denied ownership without needing to question
Every treaty with
indigenous peoples over land has been broken by the invaders and no one
should assume that the Wik legislation has satisfied the mining or
pastoral corporations, or the Howard cabinet. Reconciliation requires
acknowledgment of continuing ownership.
anxious to keep Australia’s options open for a real republic have
reasons enough to vote NO to both propositions. John Howard meanwhile
will have to find a form of words which does not put his Preamble at
odds with the rest of the constitution, which John Howard reiterates
ain’t broke, and with the aspirations of the electorate. Before
seeking some other way to write himself into the history books, he
should read more of them.
McQueen is a Canberra historian whose most recent book is Temper Democratic, How Exceptional is Australia? (Wakefield Press).