Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
What king of Constitution do we want? speech to national conference for democratic constitution



Download PDFDownload PDF

"WHAT KIND OF A CONSTITUTION DO WE WANT?" ·

address by the Ho n . E.G. WHITLAM, Q. C. , FI.P,

to the Na t io n a l Conference for a Dem o c r a tic Co n s t it u t io n

Ex h i b i t i o n Bu i l d i n g , Melbourne 23 September 1977

I t i s j e s t two years and one week s in c e I too k part in an o c c a s io n

of c o n s t it u t io n a l s i g n i f i c a n c e and h is t o r i c im po rtance eq ual

TO T H IS , . ’ · -

The o c c as io n was the b ir t h of a new n a t i o n , an in d e p e n d e n t Pa p u a

New Gu ik e a on 16 September 1975. .' ■ .

His t o r y w i l l record - much sooner perhaps than any of us could

EVER BEFORE HAVE THOUGHT POSSIBLE - THAT THE PRESENT OCCASION -

HERE IN THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT - MADE A NEW

BEGINHIlvG, THE BIRTH OF A NEW CONSTITUTION FOR A TRULY INDEPENDENT

Au s t r a l i a . - · . .

I t IS A GREAT IRONY THAT WHEN AUSTRALIA SHED HER COLONY AND

PROTECTORATE TWO YEARS AGO, WE CREATED A NATION WITH AN INDEPENDENCE

WHICH WE OURSELVES DO NOT POSSESS.

Au s t r a l i a ' s former colony i s now more t r u l y in d e p e n d e n t than

Au s t r a l ia h e r s e l f .

- 2 -

P a p u a N ew G u i n e a d o e s n o t h a v e , a s A u s t r a l i a h a s , t h e d e p e n d e n t

DOMINION STATUS IMPOSED BY THE STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER, PAPUA .

N ew G u i n e a d o e s n o t h a v e , a s A u s t r a l i a h a s , S t a t e s who c a n a p p o i n t

t h e i r G o v e r n o r s or c o n f e r h o n o u r s o n l y w i t h t h e c o n s e n t o f a

FOREIGN GOVERNMENT, OR COURTS SUBJECT TO· THE LAWS OF A FOREIGN

PARLIAMENT AND THE RULES OF A FOREIGN COURT, PAPUA NEW G UI NE A ,

WITH A UNICAMERAL AND UNITARY SYSTEM, CAN, AS A US T R AL I A CAN NOT,

CHANGE FROM A MONARCHY TO A REPUBLIC BY A SI MPLE ACT OF PAR L I AME NT . ,

P a p u a N ew G u i n e a ' s i n s t i t u t i o n s a r e s u b j e c t t o no o v e r s e a s c o n t r o l s

OTHER THAN .VOLUNTARI L Y ACCEPTED AFTER FULL INDEPENDENCE. /

Pa p u a New Gu i n e a h a s, a s Au s t r a l i a d o e s n o t h a v e, a d e m o c r a t i c

CONSTITUTION, · -

And i n t h i s c o n t r a s t, t h e r e s u r e l y l i e s p a r t of t h e a n s w e r t o t h e

QUESTION POSED FOR T O NIG H T' S DISCUSSION " .

"WHAT KIND OF A CONSTITUTION DO WE WANT?" .

The f i r s t answer must be :

WE WANT A DEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION'AND AN INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA.

As long as Au s t r a l ia i s dependent on a n a c h r o n is t ic i n s t i t u t i o n s , .

WE SHALL BE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DEPENDENT AND THUS, IN THE DEEPEST SENSE,

NOT A TRULY FREE NATION,

L i m i t a t i o n s o$ n a t io n a l in d e p e n d e n c e or s o v e r e ig n t y , s h o u l d' o n ly

BE THOSE ACCEPTED AFTER INDEPENDENCE UNDER INTERNATIONAL ARRANGEMENTS.

That sort of l i m i t a t i o n should be prom oted, p a r t ic u l a r l y by

COUNTRIES OF AUSTRALIA'S POPULATION AND LOCATION.

I RECALL, IN PASSING, THAT INDEPENDENCE DAY TWO YEARS AGO IN POET

Mo r es by was the l a s t o c c a s io n I s h a r e d . a pla tfo r m w it h th e t r i n i t y

of 11 November - Ke r r, Ba r w ic k , Fr a s e r . . .

I n d e e d , I ndependence Day in Port Moresby may w e ll have been t h e

Ge n e s is of Remembrance Day in Ca n b er r a e ig h t weeks l a t e r . Ba r w ic k

and Fraser were c lo s e t e d t o g e t h e r . in a h o t e l room in Port Mo r e s b y .

And we now know, on Sir Ga r f i e l d ' s own e v i d e n c e ," t h a t four d a y s

LATER HE AND THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL DISCUSSED THE CONSTITUTIONAL

CRISIS - 25 DAYS BEFORE THERE WAS ANY CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS AT A L L .

On 20 September Si r John to ld Sir Ga r f i e l d t h a t he was - and I

quote Ba r w ic k ' s Na t i o n a l Press Clu b address l a s t year - " t r o u b l e d i n "

HIS MINE 57 - AN A N X IE T Y HE NEVER VOUCHSAFED IN ANY FORM TO H I S

e l e c t e d Pr i m e Mi n i s t e r. ' .

Th i s touching exchange of c o n f id e n c e took p l a c e a t a b a n q u e t i m

Sy d n e y for the Co m p a n io n s of S t . Mic h a e l and S t . Geo r g e . I c o u ld .

ALMOST WISH NOW THAT I MYSELF HAD VARIED THE RULE AND ELEVATED ’

J ohn Go r ton , G.C.M .G. to the company of the a r c h a n g e l s . I m ig h t

THEN HAVE LEARNT SOMETHING TO MY ADVANTAGE BEFOREHAND.

O f c o u r s e , I KNOW i t i s t e r r ib l y bad form to d w ell on t h e s e m a t te r s ■

- ESPECIALLY IN THE CITY OF THE MELBOURNE CLUB; IN THE CITY IN

WHICH, ON THE NIGHT OF 10 NOVEMBER, AT THE LORD MAYOR'S MEN-QNLY

BANQUET, I AGREED WITH SlR HENRY WI INN EKE THAT HIS ONLY PROPER

COURSE WAS TO TAKE THE ADVICE OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL ADVISERS ON THE

ISSUE OF WRITS FOR A HALF-SENATE ELECTION,

The great t h in g nov^ i s what 11 November 1975 means for Au s t r a l i a ' s

f u t u r e . 11 November 1975 was not o n ly the day a Governor - G e n e r a l

d i s m i s s e d an e l e c t e d Government w it h an unbroken m a j o r it y in t h e

House of Re p r e s e n t a t iv e s ; i t was t h e day a g reat new movement

FOR A DEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION AND A REPUBLICAN AUSTRALIA WAS BORN.

And t h i s s e m in a l c o n v e n tio n t h i s weekend i s t h e surest s ig n t h a t .

THAT MOVEMENT IS GROWING IN ITS STRENGTH, SELF-CONFIDENCE,

ORGANISATION AND SOPHISTICATION.

Th i s c o n ve n tio n has been a p t l y compared w it h th e Corowa Co nference

of 1893. Gareth Eva n s may w ell be our new J ohn Qu i c k .

Wh a t has g a l v a n is e d so many Au s t r a l ia n s i s t h a t th ey now r e a l is e

THAT THEY LIVE UNDER A PROFOUNDLY UNDEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION. W e

HAD ALWAYS RECOGNISED ITS DEEP CONSERVATISM. NONE OF US, I BELIEVE,

HAD FULLY UNDERSTOOD ITS REACTIONARY AND UNDEMOCRATIC NATURE.

Far from t h i s new p e r c e p t io n d i m i n i s h i n g as t h e memory of 1975

RECEDES, IT IS STRENGTHENING.

- 5 -

T he r e a l i s a t i o n h a s b e e n r e i n f o r c e d b y r e c e n t e v e n t s , .

F rom t h e s e r i e s of C o n s t i t u t i o n a l C o n v e n t i o n s b e g u n b y t h e L a b o r

G o v e r n m e n t i n 1 9 7 3 , ‘ f o u r r e f e r e n d u m p r o p o s a l s w e r e p u t t o t h e

PEOPLE LAST A P R I L . THE MOST IMPORTANT OF THEM - THE PROPOSAL FOR

SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS ■ FOR THE HOUSE. OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE

S e n a t e - c o m m a n d e d 62% p o p u l a r s u p p o r t . Y e t i t f a i l e d t o p a s s

BECAUSE I T WAS APPROVED BY A MAJORI TY IN ONLY THREE OF THE S TA T E S .

I n S P E C I F I C TERMS T H I S POINTS TO THE FUNDAMENTAL REFORM NEEDED .

IN THE CONSTI TUTI ON - SECTION 1 2 S W I L L HAVE TO BE AMENDED TO MAKE

I T POSSI BLE FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE AUSTRALI AN PEOPLE TO AMEND THE

C O N S T I T UT I O N . I t I S ALMOST CERTAIN THAT THERE W I L L BE NO ROOT AND

BRANCH REFORM - ON THE SENA TE ' S POWER TO REFUSE SUPPLY FOR EXAMPLE

- U N T I L A MAJORI TY OF THE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE THE C O N S T I T U T I O N .

S i m p l y , t h e f i r s t n e e d i s f o r a c o n s t i t u t i o n w h i c h t h e p e o p l e c a n

CHANGE.

T h e u l t i m a t e o b j e c t i v e m u s t b e t o f r e e A u s t r a l i a a n d h e r

C o n s t i t u t i o n f r o m a l l c o l o n i a l e n c u m b r a n c e s , a l l r e l i c s of .

n a t i o n a l s u b s e r v i e n c e a n d d o m i n i o n s t a t u s , a l l i m p e r i a l . t i e s a n d

V I C E - R E G A L PRETENSIONS.

I t i s e x t r a o r d in a r y how strongly th ese s u r v i v e , Al l St a t e .

Go ve r n o r s , for e x a m p l e , are Br i t i s h o f f i c i a l s a p p o in t e d by the

Br i t i s h Head of St a t e on the recommendation of the Br i t i s h Secretary

of St a t e for Fo r e ig n and Commonwealth Af f a i r s . Al l St a t e ■

HONOURS ARE AWARDED IN THE NAME OF A DEFUNCT EMPIRE AND BY THE

Br i t i s h Head of St a t e on the s a y- so of th e same Br i t i s h Mi n i s t e r ,

Al l St a t e courts o p e r a t in g under St a t e laws a r e s u b j e c t to veto by

A COURT IN ANOTHER COUNTRY APPOINTED. BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THAT

OTHER COUNTRY AND REPORTING TO THE HEAD OF STATE OF THAT OTHER ‘

COUNTRY.

Au s t r a l i a ' s r e l a t io n s w it h Br i t a i n are r e g u la te d by t h e St a t u t e

of We s t m in s t e r , 1931, T he compact e n s h r in e d b y t h a t St a t u t e

ORIGINALLY INCLUDED NOT ONLY AUSTRALIA AND CANADA, BUT SOUTH AFRICA

and I r e l a n d , w h ic h have gone t h e ir own w a y s : New fo undlan d , w h ic h .

HAS BEEN INCORPORATED INTO CANADA, AND NEW ZEALAND, A UNITARY AND

UNICAMERAL STATE. O f THOSE COUNTRIES, ONLY AUSTRALIA AND CANADA

ARE S TILL NOT YET“ ABSOLUTELY INDEPENDENT OF B R ITAIN , FEATURES OF .

t h e i r Fe d e r al systems - in Ca n a d a ' s c a s e , amendments of th e .

Co n s t it u t io n i t s e l f , and in Au s t r a l i a ' s case th e a p p o in t m e n t of

Governors and a p p e a l s to t h e Pr i v y Co u n c il - s t i l l in v o l v e t h e

Br i t i s h Government and t h e Br i t i s h Pa r l i a m e n t , .

The St a t u t e of We s t m in s t e r i s no longer an in s t r u m e n t of Ca n a d ia n .

and Au s t r a l ia n in d e p e n d e n c e bu t an im p e d im e n t to i t , Under the

PRESENT SYSTEM, BRITAIN WILL BE BROUGHT INTO AUSTRALIAN

CONTROVERSIES WHENEVER STATE GOVERNMENTS BELIEVE THAT THEY CAN USE

THEIR COLONIAL STATUS TO FRUSTRATE THEIR OWN NATIONAL GOVERNMENT,

The l a t e Br i t i s h Fo r e ig n and Commonwealth Af f a i r s Se c r e t a r y , .

Anthony Cr o s l a n d, s a i d , in the House of Commons on 21 .

December 1976 :

" T he Un i t e d Kingdom Government for t h e i r p a r t -would not .

STAND IN THE WAY OF ANY CHANGES THAT COMMAND THE AGREEMENT

OF ALL CONCERNED IN AUSTRALIA". .

Th i s j u s t begs t h e q u e s t i o n . I t i s p r e c is e l y when ther e i s

DISAGREEMENT THAT AUSTRALIA'S DEPENDENT STATUS BECOMES CLEAR.

Sir JoHii Gorton w i l l be a c u t e l y aware of t h e h is t o r y of the

OFF-SHORE LEGISLATION. I n 1972 THE CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT OF

Queensland and th e Labor Government of Ta s m a n ia a p p e a l e d to t h e

Qu e e n , as Queen of Br i t a i n , to refer the q u e s t io n of t h e i r o f f - shcre

BORDERS TO HER PRIVY COUNCIL. IN FEBRUARY 1 9 7 4 , THE QUEEN WAS

ABLE TO SAY, I N ‘ OPENING THE AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT, THAT.SHE HAD

RECEIVED THE SAME ADVICE FROM HER AUSTRALIAN AND BRITISH .

MINISTERS. B ut what i f they had d is a g r e e d ?

None of the c o u n t r ie s , m o nar c h ie s or r e p u b l i c s ; w hich Br i t a i n h as

EMANCIPATED SINCE WORLD WAR 11 WOULD TOLERATE DOMINION STATUS

UNDER THE STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER. ΪΗΕ STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER

SHOULD BE REPEALED.

Wh e n e v e r t h e f u t u r e of a r e p u b l i c a n , d e m o c r a t i c , in d e p e n d e n t ;'! -

Au s t r a l i a i s r a i s e d , t h e q u e s t io n t e n d s to c e n t r e on t h e s t a t u s a n d

POWERS OF THE HEAD OF STATE - AN ELECTED OR APPOINTED PRESIDENT,

OR AN ELECTED OR APPOINTED GOVERNOR-GENERAL?

M y answ er i s t h a t a " t r u e dem ocracy does not n e e d a Head of St a t e .

WITH POWERS AT ALL, THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL WAS ACCEPTABLE AS A .

s y m b o l ic Head of St a t e when i t was a s s u m e d t h a t he had no po w e r s ;

HE IS UNACCEPTABLE AS A. HEAD OF STATE WHEN HE ASSUMES POWERS OR

IMAGINES THAT HE DERIVES INHERITED POWERS FROM A BR ITIS H MONARCH

WHO HAS NO SUCH DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR HERSELF.

Th a t i s t h a t in a p a r l ia m e n t a r y dem ocracy t h e o n l y n e e d i s for .

MACHINERY TO PROVIDE THE TRANSFER OF POWER FROM ONE GOVERNMENT

TO ANOTHER WHEN THE ELECTORATE OR THE PARLIAMENT SO DETERMINES.

Under a d e m o c r a t ic c o n s t i t u t i o n , a p r e s i d e n t , or w h a te v e r we m ig h t

c a l l t h e Head of St a t e , would h a v e no i n h e r i t e d , presu m ed or

RESERVE POWERS AT A LL. HlS POWERS OR LACK OF THEM WOULD BE

DEFINED BY THE DOCUMENT CREATING HIS OFFICE. "

Pr o fe s s o r O 'C o n n e l l has arg u ed in h i s a r t i c l e "C hange t h e

Co n s t i t u t i o n ? " t h a t t h e Go v e r n o r -G e n e r a l was j u s t i f i e d in a s s u m in g

POWERS THAT HAD NOT BEEN USED SINCE GEORGE 111 OR W lLLIAM IV

BECAUSE NO SIM ILAR DEADLOCK HAD ARISEN IN BR ITA IN SINCE THEN.

- 9-

T h e - t r u t h i s t h a t w h a t w a s h a p p e n i n g b e t w e e n 1 6 O c t o b e r a n d

1 1 N o v e m b e r 1 9 7 5 - t h e b l o c k i n g o f b u d g e t b y t h e S e n a t e a n d i t s

r e f u s a l t o b r i n g t h e b u d g e t t o a v o t e - WAS NOT A GENUI NE (

C O N S T I T U T I O N A L C R I S I S AT A L L . I t WAS E S S E N T I A L L Y A P O L I T I C A L

C R I S I S CAPABLE OF A P O L I T I C A L . SO L U T I O N , " A L L T HA T WAS NEEDED WAS

f o r t h e S e n a t e t o v o t e . on t h e b u d g e t . .

I f I T HAD VOTED AND NOT J U S T S T A L L E D , THE BUDGET WOULD HAVE BEEN

PASSED " THE C R I S I S WOULD HAVE ENDED. EXCEPT FOR THE GOVERNOR-

G e N E R A L ' S I N T E R V E N T I O N , I T WOULD HAVE ENDED TH AT WEEK.

T h e f a c t i s t h a t b e h i n d a l l t h e d e s i r e s f o r a n a c t i v e H e a d o f

S t a t e w i t h p o w e r s l i e s a b a s i c d i s t r u s t o f d e m o c r a c y , a d i s t r u s t

OF THE PEOPLE THEMSEL VES, a D I S T R U S T OF THE MEN AND WOMEN THE

PEOPLE ELECT TO REPRESENT THEM. I T I S EXACTLY TH AT SAME

C ON SERVATI VE D I S T R U S T WHICH CAUSED SENATOR WI THERS TO D E S C R I B E THE

ELECT I OH RESULT OF 1 9 7 2 AS " A N A B E R R A T I O N " AND THE E L E C T I O N .

R E S UL T OF 1 9 7 9 A S . " A TEMPORARY F I T OF LUNACY ON THE PART OF THE

p e o p l e i n S y d n e y a n d M e l b o u r n e " . .

T h e w h o l e p h i l o s o p h y - i f i t c a n b e s o s i g n i f i e d - b e h i n d t h e .

o b s t r u c t i o n o f 1 9 7 3 , 1 9 7 9 a n d 1 9 7 5 w a s t h a t t h e r e w a s a h i g h e r

N A T I O N A L W I L L , BEYOND THAT RECORDED BY THE PEOPLE I N E L EC T I O N S

f o r t h e H o u s e o f R e p r e s e n t a t i v e s , a n d t h a t t h e S e n a t e o f a l l .

T H I N G S WAS, I N SOME ALMOST S P I R I T U A L WAY, THE REPOSI TORY AND T H E .

EXPRESSI ON OF TH AT HIGHER N A T I O N A L W I L L .

- 10-

T h e c o n s e r v a t i v e d e t e r m i n a t i o n t o h o b b l e p o p u l a r H o u s e s i s .

FOUNDED ON D I S T R U S T AND FEAR OF THE PEOPLE. . .

I n t h e e n d , DISTRUST of t h e p e o p l e l e a d s to d i s t r u s t b y t h e p e o p l e .

The s e t t i n g a s i d e of c o n v e n t io n , f i r s t by M r . Le w i s , t h e n by

Bj e l k e - P e t e r s e n a n d t h e n , u l t i m a t e l y , by Kerr an d Ba r w i c k , j u s t i f i e d

THE p e o p l e ' s DISTRUST.

I t GOES FAR DEEPER THAN a DISTRUST OF THE MEN WHO HAVE MANIPULATED

THE SYSTEM; THERE IS A GROWING DISTRUST OF THE INSTITUTIONS

THEMSELVES. .

One o n ly has to r e a d t h e c o n v e n t io n d e b a t e s of t h e 1 8 9 0 ' s to s e e

HOW DEEP A STRAIN OF DISTRUST OF THE PEOPLE, A FEAR OF DEMOCRACY,

EXISTED AMONG MANY OF THE CONSTITUTION-MAKERS, .

And in d e e d t h e s e men p r e v a i l e d . For t h e y fr am ed what we can now

SEE IS A BASICALLY ANTI "DEMOCRATIC DOCUMENT*. A DOCUMENT THAT DOES.

NOT EVEN GUARANTEE THE RIGHT TO VOTE, S T IL L LESS THE RIGHT TO

AN EQUAL VOTE. - .

Wh i l e i t does e x p r e s s l y p r o v id e t h a t t h e v o t e of t h e a v e r a g e

V i c t o r i a n m u st e q u a l t h e v o t e of t h e a v e r a g e v o t e r i n e v e r y o th e r

MAINLAND STATE, IT DOES NOT, ACCORDING TO THE ,HlGH COURT, GUARANTEE

THAT THE VOTE OF ANY VICTORIAN MUST EQUAL THE VOTE OF EACH OTHER

V i c t o r i a n .

- 11-

A DEMOCRATIC CONSTI TUTI ON SHOULD MAKE I T POSSI BLE FOR THE P E O P L E ' S

W I L L , FREELY AND P E R I O DI C A L L Y EXPRESSED, TO P R E V A I L ,

T he CONSTI TUTI ON SHOULD b e a n e n a b l i n g i n s t r u m e n t , a l i b e r a t i n g .

FORCE, !\OT AN INSTRUMENT FOR HOBBLING AND C U R T A I L I N G THE PEOPLE ' S

W I L L . ' ’

I t COULD BE S A I D BEFORE 1 1 NOVEMBER THAT THE AN I T - DEMOCRAT I C NATURE

OF THE CONSTITUTION D I D NOT REALLY MATTER BECAUSE I T S AN I T - D E M OC R A T I C

POWERS WOULD NEVER BE USED. NOW WE KNOW BETTER.

I t i s t h is r e a l i s a t i o n - A GROWING r e a l i s a t i o n - WHICH IS THE .

FORCE BEHIND THIS MOVEMENT TOWARDS A MODERN.DEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION.

Sooner or l a t e r th e peo ple w i l l demand and make a new c o n s t i t u t i o n ,

And from t h i s h i s t o r i c c o n ve n tio n w i l l emerge a p e o p l e ' s

MOVEMENT WHICH MAY ACHIEVE WHAT I WOULD, TWO YEARS AGO, NEVER .

HAVE THOUGHT POSSIBLE - A TRULY DEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION AND A

TRULY INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA, IN MY LIFETIM E. .