Congress Discussion proposal: Constitutional Reform for Australia

The way Australia is governed and the political system operates leaves a lot to be desired. Whilst the House of Representatives may be representative of the majority of voters in each seat, it does not come close to representing the will of the Australian people. The Senate, created to represent the rights of the States, provides a more accurate reflection of the will of the Australian people due to the seats being distributed proportionally in each state. That said it does not represent the interests of the States, which have declined in power since Federation.

Australia has no Bill of Rights to protect citizens from excesses of government. With the recent proposal for the Immigration Minister to be granted the power to unilaterally strip citizenship on the accusation of someone being a terrorist, with censorship being enacted to protect the corporate interests of large media companies and the introduction of mass, warrantless surveillance, it is clear now, more than ever, that we need constitutional protection from our government.

We have policies to enact a Bill of Rights, to recognise aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders in the Constitution and to enable citizen initiated referenda. We also have proposals to reform democratic institutions. These are good, but I think we need to go further and look at reforming the entire political system to one that is fundamentally more democratic, more transparent and enshrines and protects the rights of citizens from state interference.

To this end, I propose that over the next year (or longer if need be) we look at how we would like to reform the Australian political system itself at a Constitutional level. To kick off this debate, I propose we set aside discussion time at Congress to see what people think of the idea, what sort of reforms we would like to see and at a fundamental level, how we would like to see the relationship between the people of Australia and the government be defined.

What initially motivated me to propose that we look at fundamental changes to the Constitution was Birgitta Jonsdottir’s keynote speech to last years Congress. She implored us to look at such changes before we found ourselves in a situation such as what Iceland faced when their banking system collapsed in 2008. She explained that the people were up for serious reform to the political system, but time was of the essence, and there is about a one year window where serious changes could be made, after which the taste for reform wanes.

Whilst a similar situation in Australia is very unlikely, I think it would help us build a positive narrative in the face of relentless bi-partisan attacks on our civil liberties, human rights and democracy. We have a lot to be against, but we can’t lose sight of what we are for.


Agreed. We also should organize, with other political parties, a series of constitutional conventions all over the country.

One idea that I have heard of is, if only for purely symbolic reasons, that the current constitution act (Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900) to be paired down to the bare minimum, if not repealed outright and that the new constitution be registered under Australian Law

Another idea is even more fundamental to the current political system is that the “totem pole” is organized in the following fashion: God, Monarch/The Crown (Well it is the English system and it is very old), States, who delegate their powers to Federal (who since the Engineers’ Case can and do make acts overriding the states) and Local with the average citizen being somewhere around last.
Not actually aligned with our current views.

Interesting idea! I suspect many of us can be tempted to design ideal political systems in our heads. I’d like to see a bill of rights to ensure power is always used within limits; state governments abolished and their functions absorbed as much as possible by councils and community groups; a single-house Federal government elected with a mixed member proportional system, and clearly defined limits on donation levels and secrecy.

I wonder if our ideas of improved political systems will wildly diverge or mostly agree. Will be a great discussion to have.