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 studying language.
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
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 Australian Constitution
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 mateship.
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 against achievement.
In this spirit we, the Australian people, commit ourselves to this Constitution.
Original Preamble to the Australian Constitution
|"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 current status."|
"Court and Tort" A Student's Workbook for the Legal Studies'
Course by Geoff Bailey
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 follows:-
Links to useful sites for the Republic debate
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
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 the
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.'
The 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 understandable.
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, 1999
| DEAR JOHN, YOUR WORDS FAIL US |
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 TIME |
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 and co-operation.
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 all.
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
Dean Jaensch is the Professor of Politics at Flinders University.
Dean Jaensch, The Advertiser, Thursday April 1st, 1999
Preambles of various other Constitutions
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 diversity.
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;
Improve 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 our people.
Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika.
setjhaba sa heso.
God se‘n Suid-Afrika.
God 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, 1992.
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
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
Constitutions and treaties of the World on a German constitutional law page.
Suggested Preambles written by Amateur Preambulists
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.
Our united 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
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 College.
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 ancient
Recognising indigenous Australians as the original occupants and custodians of our land
Believing in freedom and equality, and
Embracing democracy and the rule of
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
Australia's distinctive identity and lifestyle are to be prized and cherished.
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
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,
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
We the people of Australia
Proud of our diversity
Celebrating our unity
Loving our unique and ancient land
Recognising 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. Updated 3-8-2017 with new Republic push.
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