PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8103

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER HANDOVER OF CONSITUTION ACT CANBERRA - 23 AUGUST 1990

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 23/08/1990

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 8103

PRIME MINISTER
CHECK. GAI. N2LDE~ fIEEY MRARrn~ n lINT I 1) d~ Jfl-f
SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER
HANDOVER OF CONSTITUTION ACT
CANBERRA 23 AUGUST 1990
Sir Geoffrey and Lady Howe,
Excellencies, Parliamentary Colleagues,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted today to take formal possession, on behalf of
the Government and people of Australia, of this original copy
of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.
This Act of the British Parliament gave birth to the Australian
Constitution and, with it, to the Australian nation. By the
terms enacted in this document, Australians were legally bound
together as one people.
Until now this document has been part of the public records of
the United Kingdom one of only two vellum originals of the
Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.
It is entirely understandable that the British authorities
should have jealously safeguarded the integrity of historical
records such as this and indeed of the entire heritage of
public records that, as Sir Geoffrey reminds us, stretches back
without break to the Thirteenth Century.
So it was all the more a welcome and significant token of
goodwill towards us, that the British Parliament passed special
legislation earlier this year to allow this document to be
handed over today for permanent safekeeping in Australia.
This document is a proof of the deep friendship that exists
between Australia and the United Kingdom, and it is a
remarkable-token of the intimate ties of history and
constitutional democracy that we share.
It is, simply, a gift of inestimable value and I stress the
word ' gift'. This document has never before been owned by
Australia. At the same time, it takes nothing away from our sense of
gratitude to observe that this object, gift as it is, has
always been Australian. Though it is only now that we
formally own it, it is, in a real sense, simply being
" returned" to us.
128 4

2.
That is, of course, because the Constitution and Federation
that were enacted with this legislation were the end-product,
the cap-stone, of a long and vital process by which the
Australian people themselves decided to unite and live as one
nation. It was the product of some ten years of intense negotiations by
the leading members of the six Australian colonies. In draft
form, it was put to popular vote and was adopted by a majority
in each of the six colonies.
So the words of the Australian premiers in 1900, when
responding to British suggestions for amendments to the
Constitution Bill, are timely today:
" The Commonwealth Bill belongs in a very special sense
to the people of Australia, whose only mandate to
Governments and Parliaments is to seek its enactment by
the Imperial Parliament in the form in which it was
adopted by the people."
History records that this viewpoint was largely accepted and
the Bill passed the British Parliament on 5 July 1900. It
received Royal Assent from Queen Victoria on 9 July and on
17 September 1900 she signed a Proclamation having the effect
of bringing the Constitution Act into force on 1 January 1901.
Australia already holds duplicate originals of both the Royal
Proclamation and the Commission of Royal Assent.
So in obtaining this document today we are completing the set
we are bringing together the trinity of documents which
constitutes the birth certificate of Australia.
So this document is now back where it rightly belongs in the
possession of the Government of Australia, on display in the
Parliament of Australia, for perusal by the people of
Australia. For such an achievement, many people deserve credit.
To Sir Geoffrey Howe, as the representative of the United
Kingdom Government and Parliament, our primary thanks are due.
When I met Prime Minister Thatcher in Gallipoli in April I took
the opportunity of thanking her personally for this gift. I
ask, Sir Geoffrey, that you take back to Prime Minister
Thatcher and to your Parliament the heartfelt gratitude of the
entire Australian Government, Parliament and people.
Alf Morris also deserves great praise not only because his
private member's bill did so much to break the logjam but also
because, as leader of the ANZAC Parliamentary Group at
Westminster he had the determination to garner cross-party
support for the proposal, harnessed to an accurate
understanding of the symbolic importance to Australians of the
document in question.
Many people on the Australian side have also contributed to
this occasion 1 I

Senator Gareth Evans first suggested we seek an original
copy of the Constitution from the British for our
bicentennial celebrations
our High Commissioner in Britain, Doug McClelland, has
played an essential behind the scenes role
and, not least, the Secretary of my Department Mike Codd,
has assiduously pursued this matter with his British
counterpart.
Finally, it is appropriate to acknowledge the role of the two
million or more Australians who have already visited this
Parliament House and who have seen this document on display
just above where we are standing demonstrating beyond doubt
the interest of Australians in this fundamental part of our
political, legal and cultural heritage.
This is an occasion of which our founding fathers, the pioneers
of the Australian Constitution, would have been deeply proud.
So I add my welcome to all the descendants of these original
statesmen of the Australian nation, who are honoured guests
today. As you have mentioned, Sir Geoffrey, I have recently called on
Australians to undertake a new effort to modernise and to make
more efficient the Federal system under which we live. Part of
this may involve a new initiative to amend by referendum some
of the terms of the Federal compact agreed on by our colonial
forebears nearly 100 years ago and enacted in this document.
It is perhaps a matter of wonder that the original terms of the
Constitution have proven so resilient to change over the years
despite numerous opportunities for change being presented to
the Australian electorate by Governments up to and including
the present one. I can only assume that the frequency and
strength of ' No" votes in referendums must be due to the
abiding affection Australians feel for every section,
sub-section, clause and word of the original Federal compact.
Now that visitors to this Parliament House can see the original
Constitutional documents in all their unabridged, unarnended,
turn-of-the-century glory they may you never know hear the
siren call of reform sounding in their ears. If " No" votes
become " Yes" votes, we nay well have double reason for
gratitude to you Sir Geoffrey and to your Parliamentary
colleagues for your generosity.
I now have great pleasure in accepting this gift on behalf of
all Australians.
12: 86.

Transcript 8103