Advance Notice: 2019 Conference: Melbourne

The Society’s next Conference will take place in Melbourne, Friday 9 August to Sunday 11 August 2019. Further details (venue, program, speakers, accommodation, etc.) will be added when confirmed.

Australia Day Message 2019

History, a common language, a common law, and geography dictated that the Australian colonies federate. They did that by an exhaustive, generally democratic, and entirely lawful and peaceful process, which gave us a Constitution with a legitimacy and clarity possessed by few others.

Events in some other countries serve as a reminder of our good fortune. There are many politicians among the 48% of voters who voted for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU, who now wish to treat the vote of the majority as an aberration and irritable failure of a populist incognoscenti to understand where their best interests lie.

The debate in the United Kingdom is rather like the public debate after the failure of the republic referendum in Australia. There is one important difference, however. Our founders wisely inserted section 128 into our Constitution. As much as the republicans might complain, or try to explain away the result, or worse, seek to re-engineer a different result, section 128 prevents that. Effectively, the founders set out to ensure that the democratic will would prevail over unwise attempts to tamper with the Constitution.

Events in the United Kingdom serve as a further reminder of our good fortune. A degree, perhaps a high degree even, of international cooperation is desirable, but we would do well not to enter into voluntary and binding arrangements which theoretically make provision for withdrawal but which when invoked are dismissed or punished. All internationalism needs to be cautiously embarked upon.

Sovereignty is not a synonym as it is sometimes represented for aggressive nationalism or even nationalism itself. The politicians have no mandate to defy those who elect them. Those who are elected need to be domestically elected and able therefore to be kept in full view. The External Affairs power (s 51(xxxix) of the Constitution) and its exploitation by all three branches of government, the Parliament, the Executive and the Courts, require constant vigilance.

The Samuel Griffith Society, whose whole purpose is to uphold the Australian Constitution, wishes everyone a happy and reflective Australia Day.

I D F Callinan AC
26 January 2019

New Volumes of Proceedings added to Website

The Proceedings of the Society for 2015 (volume 27) and 2016 (volume 28) have now been added to the site as PDFs. More information and download options here.

How much do you know about our Constitution?

If you’re like most Australians your answer would probably be, “not much”!

We all know there is something called “The Constitution” and we know that the Constitution has been a good thing, yet we know very little about what’s in it, or how it works in practice.

The Constitution is in fact the keystone of our parliamentary and legal system. It protects our democracy and our liberties.

From time to time, assorted prominent people suggest that Australia’s Constitution is “badly in need of reform” and that we should now embark on a large scale process of “constitutional review”.

These comments have set alarm bells ringing in the minds of many Australians who regard such attempts to “reform” our Constitution with great reserve, if not suspicion.

Written constitutions exist in many countries and have been established for very good reasons – maintaining law and order and protecting citizens from abuses of power and authority – including, particularly, abuses by governments.

It is difficult for many Australians who, if native born, have never experienced serious domestic turbulence, or civil wars, or openly oppressive government regimes, to appreciate fully the benefits of such civil quietness. Nevertheless most of us would agree that we should always be alert against any attempt to undermine the liberties we currently enjoy.

With these thoughts in mind The Samuel Griffith Society was formed in 1992, and the fact that hundreds of Australians have since joined the Society indicates the general concern to uphold a Constitution which has served us so well for so long.

Sir Samuel Griffith was, from 1903 until 1919, the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. It is widely accepted that he was primarily responsible for writing the first constitutional draft of 1891.This document became the basis for our Constitution, under which the six Australian self-governing colonies came together to form a Federation. The proper roles of federal and State governments under the Constitution are of continuing and vital importance.

The Samuel Griffith Society’s prime role is to ensure that proposals to change the Australian Constitution will be subjected to the most intense scrutiny. Constitutional change may well be desirable from time to time, but it should only occur after exhaustive, community-wide debate, leading up to consideration by the Australian people under the referendum provisions of s.128 of the Constitution.

The Society now appeals to all Australians to join in upholding their Constitution – not only because it has served us well in the past, but also to ensure it continues to serve well future generations.