• Hamish McAvaney

Working Hardly: A Book Review of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia


Widely recognised as a ‘must-have’ on the bookshelf of any up-and-coming lawyer, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia is an enchanting and fickle publication that manages to inspire, upset and confuse its readers.

Opening in a fairly straightforward manner, one cannot help but feel the document is a bit derivative of earlier publications, including its American counterpart by James Madison et al. The present edition appears to have changed very little from previous versions; alterations only seeming to take place when there is an overwhelming majority in favour of amendment.

Notably absent from the Constitution is any mention of human rights or ministerial leadership. This is likely to be an area of much discourse in the future and is worthy of further exploration in the publication.

Outlining the various legislative powers of parliament in the document, one cannot help but feel a powerful headache coming on – Good government? Good heavens! Such vague and elastic concepts of defence and external affairs powers can only be clarified with extensive reading of the arguments raised by Polyukovich, Farey and Burvett.

Reading down the provisions in the Constitution, one is overcome with a sense that their usefulness could be limited in the future depending on their interpretation. A lack of clarity as to how elements of the text are to be understood and applied render it susceptible to striking down by critics. The document has been damned in Tasmania, but its applicability to Australia as a whole means that, to the extent of any inconsistency with other legal texts, the Constitution will prevail.

Despite these potential issues, the fact that the Constitution remains in publication after over a century is a testament to its relevance to each of the nation’s states and territories, and to the Australian legal system in the 21st century. A handy addendum to the back allows readers to examine how the publication has taken shape over its long history, and its extensive use of a convoluted Roman-style numerical system will leave readers with a sense of connection to a proud legal tradition.

Irrespective of whether one places particular focus on the individual letters or the spirit of the document as a whole, the Constitution remains crucial to shaping understandings of the place of the rule of law in contemporary society and is something no lawyer or country should be without (cf United Kingdom).

Hamish is a final year urban planning/law student with a smashing array of tweed jackets. Everything he knows about criminal procedure he learnt from Jay-Z’s 99 Problems and he is not too proud to take this opportunity to plug himself for paid employment.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 16 September 2011.

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