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We Made One of the World’s Most Successful Constitutions

Prior to Federation, Australia was made up of separate colonies with their own elected governments. The 1890s saw a series of conventions with delegates both popularly elected and/or nominated by the colonies. The draft Australian Constitution was adapted from the constitutions of the USA, Canada and Switzerland as well as incorporating many ideas from the British system of responsible parliamentary Government. The draft, similar to that finally approved by the people in the referendums held in each of the colonies, was extensively the work of Samuel Griffith (QLD), Edmund Barton (NSW), Charles Kingston (SA) and, Andrew Inglis (TAS).

As no single colony could legislate for any of the others, and to give the new constitution undoubted legal effect in all colonies, at the request of the people in each colony, the British Parliament in 1900 passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act to which our constitution, as agreed by the people, was and is a Schedule. Our federal Constitution was designed by Australians, for Australians and approved by Australian voters. The Australian constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901. All those who voted for it approved its creation of one nation on one continent under the Crown.

REPUBLICANS ASSERT

That women and aborigines were not allowed to vote in the colonial referendums for the Australian constitution and the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia.

ACM'S RESPONSE

The authority of the Crown comes from the people and in 1900 Australians voted to retain the monarchy. The people of all States by a majority voted to have the system we've got. It is not true that no women voted. Those States where women had the franchise did vote, as in South Australia. Those aborigines that had the franchise in Victoria and New South Wales did vote. But, sure, it was a male dominated world then.

'The debate over Australian history, however, risks being distorted if its focus is confined only to the shortcomings of previous generations. It risks being further distorted if highly selective views of Australian history are used as the basis for endless and agonised navel-gazing about who we are or, as seems to have happened over recent years, as part of a 'perpetual seminar' for elite opinion about our national identity.
The current debate over Australian history would benefit from a more balanced approach, from a wider perspective and from less pre-ordained pessimism.

In the broad balance sheet of our history, there is a story of great Australian achievement to be told . ... ...

We are right to be proud of living in one of the world's oldest continuous democracies, having pioneered advances in women's franchise, individual freedom, the accountability of governments and the rule of law.'
The Hon J.W. Howard (Prime Minister of Australia) Address: "The 1996 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture" Melbourne, 18 November 1996
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