How does the Australian constitution empower the Commonwealth Parliament to make the most of the country’s laws?

Australia has taken great strides in its short history as a democracy.  After winning sovereignty from British rule, the leaders of the young nation embarked upon creating democratic institutions and processes to ensure fairness and justice for all.  They looked up to British legal history and the American written constitution to chart out a robust constitution for Australia.  They’ve also incorporated deliberative mechanisms through which new laws could be passed.  And the Parliament of Australia (Commonwealth Parliament) is the core institution where the process of debate, consideration and passage of bills into laws plays out.  This is a crucial aspect of governing the nation, as it allowed obsolete laws to be replaced by more relevant ones (recent laws governing grants and rights of aboriginal Australians are a case in point).  The constitution states that “a new Commonwealth (national) law can only be made, or an existing law changed or removed, by or under the authority of the federal Parliament, that is, by or in accordance with an Act of Parliament.” (www.aph.gov.au, 2010)  This instance shows that the motives and objectives for the creation of the institution of the Parliament are well articulated in the Constitution.  The rest of this essay will argue that the Commonwealth Parliament is indeed endowed with broad-ranging powers to make laws for the country.

The Commonwealth Parliament is a bicameral arrangement, where the two houses of Parliament will have to concur before laws could be passed.  The lower house of the Parliament is elected on the basis of ‘one-vote-one-value’ principle.  The upper house, on the other hand, contains appointed members alongside elected members.  The section 1 of the Constitution of Australia states that Parliament contains three units.  The first component is the Queen, the second is the Senate and the third is the House of Representatives.  Since the Queen is a nominal figure, she’s represented by the Governor-General.  The Senate (the upper house) consists of 76 members (twelve each for each state and two for each mainland territory).  Using the method of proportional voting, Senators are elected to the house.  The lower house on the other hand is represented by 150 members. The members of the House of Representatives are drawn from electoral divisions or electorates. (Wear, 1999, p.544)

These two houses meet in separate chambers of the Parliament House in the capital city to debate and vote on several legislative proposals.  This way, views from all sections of society are heeded in the process. Thus, the pioneers of Australian democracy have installed a stable and foolproof structure for updating the laws of the country. (Kelly, 2001, p.44)  The framers of the constitution also imposed checks and balances in the system through the endowment of unequal amounts of powers to the two houses.  For example,

“In matters relating to the collection or expenditure of public money the Constitution gives a more powerful role to the House of Representatives—the House of Government. Bills which authorize the spending of money (appropriation bills) and bills imposing taxation cannot originate in the Senate. The Senate may not amend bills imposing taxation and some kinds of appropriation bill, or amend any bill so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people but it can ask the House to make amendments to these bills.” (www.aph.gov.au, 2010)

1 2