OURS IS NOT A “HORSE AND BUGGY CONSTITUTION”

Now some will say that this is all very well, but the Australian referendum makes it too difficult to change the Constitution. That is not so. As two of our Founders, Sir James Quick and Robert Garran wrote (The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, 1901, reprinted in 1995, at 988), the safeguard in s.128 is:

"... necessary not only for the protection of the federal system, but in order to secure maturity of thought in the consideration and settlement of proposals leading to organic changes. These safeguards have been provided, not in order to prevent or indefinitely resist change in any direction, but in order to prevent change being made in haste or by stealth, to encourage public discussion and to delay change until there is strong evidence that it is desirable, irresistible and inevitable".

It is even said that we still live under a "horse and buggy" Constitution. In other words, because it is old and successful it must be changed. The American Constitution is twice as old, yet I cannot recall it described as a "horse and buggy" Constitution!

We have approved eight changes to ours, the Americans twenty-five. But ten of these -- the Bill of Rights -- were made in 1791 and were necessary to secure its ratification. So since 1791 there have been fifteen changes to the US Constitution. Fifteen in two centuries compared to eight in our one century. A comparable record, I would say, especially if one excludes the two American amendments on Prohibition, one to impose it and one to remove it!

And it must be remembered too that in Australia, unlike Switzerland, the people cannot propose a constitutional change by way of an initiative. Nor can the States. Only the Houses of the Federal Parliament can propose constitutional change.

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