Leading up to the republic referendum later in the year, I thought it might be interesting for my year 11 English class
at Unley High School to examine the preamble to the constitution as an exercise in English.
It is rare for words and poets to receive so much publicity in the
media. Whole articles have been written about single words like mateship and
custodianship so writing a preamble is obviously a suitable task for a class
We began by reading the draft preamble, then the original preamble to the constitution from 1900 and finally
the suggestion by the Labor party which was also printed in the paper. We looked at a number of other modern
preambles to constitutions that we were able to find on the internet.
Students now have the task of comparing the preambles, suggesting what they think is important in an
Australian, and any other preamble, and then drafting their own. When that is done we will put them up on this
page together with the accompanying arguments produced. We began this assignment on March 26th, 1999, and
continued after the Term 1 school holidays.
We will also be studying Australian poetry, Australian films and further Republic issues as they arise.
Here is the draft preamble produced by
then Prime Minister, John Howard and his
'mate,' poet Les Murray.
Draft of the Proposed New Preamble to the
With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted
by the equal sovereignty of all its citizens.
The Australian nation is woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals. Our vast island continent
has helped to shape the destiny of our Commonwealth and the spirit of its people.
Since time immemorial our land has been inhabited by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who are honoured
for their ancient and continuing cultures.
In every generation immigrants have brought great enrichment to our nation's life.
Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realise themselves as individuals, and
free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as
Australia's democratic and federal system of government exists under law to preserve and protect all
Australians in an equal dignity which may never be infringed by prejudice or fashion or ideology nor invoked
In this spirit we, the Australian people, commit ourselves to this Constitution.
Original Preamble to the Australian
|"The preamble, or lead-in words,
refers to the key principles which gives the Constitution its authority, or legitimacy. It also provides a brief
summary of the main features of the legal institutions that form the foundations of the Constitution. Many
observers agree that the preamble should be re-written whether Australia becomes a republic or retains its
"Court and Tort" A Student's Workbook for the Legal Studies' Course by Geoff
Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland; and Tasmania, humbly relying on
the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies
and possessions of the Queen:
Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords
Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as
Links to useful sites for the Republic
Australian Republican Movement on Facebook.
Constitution of Australia.
The republic issues: a guide.
Australian politics. I copied Nicholson's republic cartoon
above onto this page immediately it appeared-it is not taken from the Australian Politics site!
The Australian Republican Movement Page-relaunched as Our Identity 2012
Australian Monarchists' League, featuring an intro by Alan Jones.
Head of state issue for the republic.
David Nicholl's site about the
preamble. He has included a number of satirical preambles and links.
Constitutional referenda in Ausralia.
The Ausflag Home Page: Australian flags, past and present-forget the
emotion, get the facts.
The Republic Unplugged: an up to date page that tells you what the enemy is thinking.
Local Newspaper Articles
| MATE, IT'S A GREAT IDEA|
Bizarre. Who would have thought the issue splitting Australia about its future direction would be mateship?
The ideal that embodies equality, egalitarianism and the Anzac spirit in a uniquely Aussle way appears to be on
A chorus of critics has canned Prime Minister John Howard's inclusion of the word in his proposed
preamble to a republican Constitution, labelling it undignified.
Howard's preface is a tad clumsy. It is a
long and winding road to state his vision of who we are and where we are going, but it has plenty going for it,
including its unashamed reference to mateship.
Yet the knockers have gone ballistic, calling it everything
under the sun - including sexist and racist. It is not as though the Howard preface runs along the lines of:
'G'day cobbers, we've a grouse land full of sheilas and beer, and here are the laws to prove it.'
mateship reference is a simple, dignified pointer to a quality admired as being forged in pioneer spirit and
evolving to be cherished in the diversity of modern Australia. Its inclusion in a preamble would give the uniting
knockabout quality its due reverence. By injecting mateship into the new version it would take the spiel from
the lawyers and give it back to the people.If mateship is banished in the name of political correctness
it will say something about 21st century Australia.
| The Labor Party and the Democrats
oppose Howard's prose
generally. Well, they would, wouldn't they, although the ALP's version has a lot going for it. Feminists oppose
the incluslon of mateship because it is too blokey; yet mateship is more about what's in your mind than what's
between your legs. |
Ethnic groups want a more direct celebration of multiculturalism; I am loathe to
unreservedly celebrate all aspects of all cultures - not when some include quaint traditions such as ownership of
wives, female circumcision, corporal and capital punishment, child labor and arranged marriages.
Yet one of
the biggest problems prefacing the Constitution is a custody battle. These fights tend to be ugly - the one most
loved tends to suffer. Who is to get custody of Australia immediately divides the camp into two sides.
Howard's version honors Aborigines, but does not grant them custodianship of the land. His caution is
Custodianship implies two nations, of guards and squatters. Aboriginal custodianship may be
a nice sentiment, but the reality of a 21st century Australia is different.
Perhaps a joint custody order
would go some way towards cementing a responsible mateship between all Aussies. Then we can look at the real
issue - what comes after the preamble.
Brad Crouch, "The Sunday Mail", March 28th,
| DEAR JOHN, YOUR WORDS FAIL
The big danger in the Prime Minister's Constitution preamble is that, because it is so vague and
confusing, it will invite High Court interference to provide its own tight definitions.
The last thing we want is appointed judges changing a seminal document which, one way or another, will have been
blessed by the electors.
Mr Howard's preamble refers to "our vast Island continent". What about Tasmania? Also, the High Court's
contentious Mabo decision resulted from an application from Mirriam Islanders of the Torres Strait. We know what
the PM means, but it encourages judicial interpretation.
Then there's "hope in God". Surely this is an
affront to Buddhists, Hindus and others in that it does not recognise the existence of different faiths.
As for mateship, husbands often refer to their wives as mates, but in general women seldom use the word. Mates is
not gender neutral.
The preamble acknowledges the "nation is woven together of people from rnany ancestries and arrivals" and refers
to the Aborigines' ancient and continuing cultures. But surely, since the preamble should be fashioned to be
timeless it should recognise that one
strong, defining Australian character is rapidly emerging from the cultural mix of all our people. |
Although the word citizen is supposed to embrace everybody, in Australia it can too easily be taken to mean
people who live in cities rather than those who are nation-building in the country. Instead of "sovereignty of
all its citizens", the word people, as used in the Constitution, would be more suitable.
The document as a whole needed not a poet, but a good sub-editor.
The Imperative in the preamble should be inclusiveness. The wording should be inspiring, vigorous and confident.
In this regard Labor's preamble version is commendably direct, but still falls short of what we deserve.
Mr Howard is right to reject the Constitutional Convention's recommendation to acknowledge the "custodianship"
over the land by Aboriginal people, which is ambiguous.
Does this have any implications for land rights today?
Actually, the arrival of the Aborigines changed the land's ecology by the introduction of fire. Varieties that
survived fire well, such as eucalypts and banksias, prospered. The original ecology did not survive unchanged
after the Aborigines arrived.
But overall, John, admit it. Your preamble is a mishmash. You must try again.
Les Hollings, "The Sunday Mail", March 28th, 1999
|WORD JUMBLE WASTE OF
The issue of a new pre-amble to the Constitution has become the topic of the month. So far, we have a
draft from the Constitutional Convention, a draft from the Labor Party and the John Howard draft. And we have a
real bunfight, focusing on the content and style of the Howard proposal. The reactions, mostly negative,
emphasise the real, deep and, I would suggest, insoluble problems of trying to write a preamble. The Howard draft
has offended many groups. The women's movement will not have a bar of "mateship". In one sense, I agree - the
ways that the term "mate" is used, especially inside the Labor movement, are not always symbolic of friendship
Aboriginal leaders have rejected the Howard draft. Some leaders of ethnic communities have complained about
insufficient recognition. Mr Beasley is rock solid in his opposition. Don't be surprised if other groups in our
society also come out and demand that they, too, deserve specIfic recognition and inclusion.
The Australian Republican Movement is concerned about the intensity of the debate. And so it should be. If too
many people become alienated simply because they do not feel they have sufficient, or any, recognition and if too
many people are simply confused or put off by the brawl about the preamble, then the ARM should rightly worry
that such a mood could flow on to produce a "no" vote in both referendum questions. The proposed change to a
republic could be defeated by lack of agreement about a few words in a preamble.
My view is that Shakespeare
got it right.- "Much ado about nothing". What all the warfare is about is what my Oxford defines as an
"introductory statement ... introductory part". The arguments are about an introduction to the Constitution, a
preamble which is not even part of the constitution. Why worry about it, at all? Does it really matter? Would our
structures of politics, our commitment to the principles which are supposed to be embodied in the Constitution,
be damaged by simply not having a preamble at all?
| The standard argument for having a preamble is that it would contain the fundamental
statement of who we are, where we came from and what guides our politics. Certainly, the existing preamble
reflects some of this, but in terms of the Australian society and psyche in the minds the founding fathers in the
1890s. It is out of date and simply of no relevance as a description of "us". That is sufficient reason for
getting rid of the old version. |
But neither the preamble nor the Constitution has much to say about the principles which should guide our
political structures and processes.
There is a virtual silence about basic principles such as representative democracy and responsible government -
about what they really mean and how they should operate. However, if there is an uproar about what should go into
the preamble - the introduction- imagine the chaos which would emerge if these were on the agenda as well. Any
attempt to redefine "us", our nature, hopes, desires and philosophies in the complex society of the 1990s is
bound to fragment. There will never be a consensus on the content and the wording. Some people, groups and
sections will be appalled. Others will be happy. Many will remain apathetic - to whatever the preamble says. So
why bother? Will the absence of a preamble cause any problems? If we do not have an introduction to the
Constitution, will it cause any harm to us, or to the document and the way in which it works? I suspect none at
So, why don't we agree on one thing - that raising the issue of a new preamble was an interesting exercise, but
proceeding with it will be more divisive than the final product will be worth? To attempt to please everyone, the
result would have to be as fuzzy as blancmange, about as meaningful as simply having "G'day" as a preamble. I
cannot think of any absolutely convincing reason why we need a preamble and hence no reason why we, as a society,
should go through the pain of a very divisive political argument over it.
Dean Jaensch is the Professor
of Politics at Flinders University.
Dean Jaensch, The Advertiser, Thursday April 1st,
Preambles of various other
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES PREAMBLE
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more
perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the
general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.
SOUTH AFRICAN PREAMBLE
"We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and
develop our country;
and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme
law of the Republic so as to -
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic
values, social justice and fundamental human rights
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in
which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person;
Build a united and democratic
South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect
Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika.
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seŽn Suid-Afrika.
bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.
DRAFT PREAMBLE OF THE ESTONIAN REPUBLIC CONSTITUTION
It is in unfaltering faith and with an unwavering
desire to secure and develop a state that is based on the unquenchable right of the Estonian people to determine
their own statehood, and proclaimed on February 24, 1918, that is based on freedom, justice and law, that stands
as a protector of peace, both internally and externally, and serves as a pledge to current and future generations
in their social progress and overall well-being, that must guarantee the preservation of the Estonian nationality
and culture through ages to come, that the people of Estonia have adopted, in accordance with Article 1 of the
constitution that took effect in 1938, the following constitution in the general elections held on June 28,
PREAMBLE FOR THE LAO CONSTITUTION
For thousands of years, the multi-ethnic Lao people lived and growed on
this beloved land. More than six centuries ago, during the time of Chao Fa Ngum, our ancestors founded the
unified Lane Xang country and built it into a prosperous and glorious land.
From the 18th century A.D. onwards, the Lao land had been repeatedly threatened and invaded by outside powers.
Our people had united to develop the heroic and unyielding traditions of their ancestors and continually and
persistently fought to regain independence and freedom.
Over the past 60 years, under the correct leadership of the former Indochinese Communist Party and the present
Lao People's Revolutionary Party, the multi-ethnic Lao people had carried out a difficult and arduous struggle,
filled with great sacrifices, until they managed to crush the yoke of domination and oppression of the
colonialist and feudalist regimes, completely liberated the country, and established the Lao People's Democratic
Republic on 2 December 1975; thus opening a new era, an era of genuine independence for the country and true
freedom for the people.
In the recent years, our people have together implemented the two strategic tasks of safeguarding and building
the country, and have initially achieved satisfactory results.
And now in this new period, the society requires that the State must have a Constitution. This Constitution is
the Constitution of the People's Democratic Regime in our country. It recognizes the great achievements gained by
our people in the struggle for national liberation and development; it defines the political regime, the
socio-economic system, the fundamental rights and duties of citizens and the system of organization of the
state's apparatus in this new period. This is the first time in the history of our nation that the people's right
to mastery is defined in the fundamental law of the nation.
This Constitution is the product of the process of discussion by the people throughout the country. It reflects
the long-term aspirations and strong determination of the national community to strive together to fulfill the
objective of building the Lao nation into a country of peace, independence, democracy, unity and prosperity.
PREAMBLE FOR THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC
We, the citizens of the Czech Republic in Bohemia,
Moravia and Silesia, at the time of the renewal of the independent Czech State, true to all the sound traditions
of the ancient statehood of the Crown Lands of Bohemia as well as to those of the Czechoslovak statehood,
determined to build up, protect and develop the Czech Republic in the spirit of the inviolable values of human
dignity and liberty as a homeland of equal, free citizens, who are aware of their duties towards others and of
their responsibility to society as a whole, as a free and democratic state, based on respect for human rights and
on the principles of a civic society, as a part of the family of the democracies of Europe and of the world,
determined to act together in safeguarding and developing the inherited natural and cultural, material and
spiritual wealth, determined to abide by all the well-proven principles of law-governed state, hereby adopt,
through our freely elected representatives, the following Constitution of the Czech Republic.
The development of the American Constitution : a
documentary record in the Avalon project at Yale Law School.
Constitutions and treaties of the World on a German constitutional law page.
Suggested Preambles written by
It's embarrassing to have a great idea only to find that
other people have had the same great idea! "The Weekend Australian", March 27th-28th, which we do not get at
home, had a number of articles on the preamble together with various attempts by some well known Australians to
improve on John Howard's effort (Thanks to Marianthi who brought the articles to school). The links to the
republic site no longer work but hopefully the articles are archived. Below is one preamble written by students
from that site, together with the Labor Party preamble, Jeff Kennett's attempt and the latest version of the
Labor preamble by Gareth Evans.
The Commonwealth of Australia is constituted by the equality of all its citizens.
people drawn from nations across the globe, people from many ancestries, have helped shape our Commonwealth and
the spirit of its people.
We the people of Australia recognise indigenous Australians as the original
occupants of the land.
Believing in freedom and equality and embracing democracy and the rule of law, we
commit ourselves to this, our Constitution.
Sarah, Amanda, Kaycee and Louise are students at Launceston
Having come together in 1901 as a Federation under the Crown, relying on the blessing of
Almighty God, and the Commonwealth of Australia being now a sovereign democracy, our united people drawn from
nations across the globe,
We the people of Australia
Proud of our diversity
Loving our unique and
Recognising indigenous Australians as the original occupants and custodians of our
Believing in freedom and equality, and
Embracing democracy and the rule of law
Commit ourselves to
this our Constitution.
DECLARATION OF THE PEOPLE OF AUSTRALIA by Jeff Kennett, Premier of Victoria
We commit ourselves to the
Commonwealth of Australia as a sovereignty founded on the values of equality and dignity.
We hold inviolable
the rights of a free people - to speak freely and to make our own choices in the pursuit of knowledge,
opportunity and fulfilment.
Australia's distinctive identity and lifestyle are to be prized and
We celebrate difference, and are united by the heritage of a harmonious indigenous and
international culture, and the custodianship of an ancient, fragile land.
The future is our frontier and our
destiny is to claim Australia's place in the world.
Our democracy is vested in every individual and confers
the protection of the rule of law; and government serves the common good.
In this spirit the Constitution
defines Australia's charter for all generations.
A NEW DRAFT PREAMBLE proposed by Labor, the Democrats and the Greens and closely following the draft written
by Labor backbencher Mr Gareth Evans, former foreign mininster, released 28-4-99:
Having come together in 1901, relying on God, as a Federation under the Crown;
And the Commonwealth of
Australia being now a sovereign democracy, our people drawn from many nations;
We the people of Australia
Proud of our diversity
Celebrating our unity
Loving our unique and ancient land
indigenous Australians as the original occupants and custodians of our land
Believing in freedom and
equality, Embracing democracy and the rule of law
Commit ourselves to this our
This is less than half the length of Mr Howard's preamble and has been backed by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja of
the Democrats and Senator Bob Brown of the Greens.
Updates added here
I have used the text of articles rather than links to the articles, in some cases, in case they disappear.
Page created 28-3-99.
Links checked and updated on 23-10-2012, following the launch of a new republic campaign.
Updates added 31-8-2015 following another new campaign and introduction of the new chair, Peter FitzSimons.
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