Senator Faulkner: Australian Constitution like stump-jump plough

Media release: Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner, has likened the Australian Constitution to a stump-jump plough, designed to go over obstacles without actually removing them.

'Like our Constitution, it isn't particularly elegant, but it is remarkably effective,' he said.

Senator Faulkner was addressing a group of new Australian citizens at the National Archives on Constitution Day, 9 July. On that day in 1900 Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, signifying the creation of the nation of Australia.

Senator Faulkner said the Constitution was created by pragmatic idealists, crafting a blueprint for a new nation, combining high hopes with low compromises.

'Their vision – a nation for a continent – was a grand one. The problems they had to overcome were more pedestrian. They struggled to negotiate the finicky interrelations of multiple jurisdictions, competing agendas and different-sized railway gauges.'

'Not for us a great battle, where patriots spilled blood creating a new nation, nor a revolution with armed crowds of citizens replacing the government with one more to their liking.'

Senator Faulkner said he believed a number of changes would make the Constitution more relevant to Australia today. These included the removal of potentially racially discriminatory provisions, fixed four-year terms for both houses of the federal parliament and reform to prevent the blocking of appropriation bills.

He added that the Constitution should reflect the actual practices and conventions of the Australian system of government, including that the head of state should act on the advice of the government enjoying the confidence of the House of Representatives. So too, the Constitution should express the values, aspirations and ideals of the Australian people.

A transcript and audio recording of Senator Faulkner's full speech is on the National Archives website.

Contact information:

Senator Faulkner's office: Ashley Hogan (02) 6277 7600 or 0417 651 952
National Archives of Australia: Elizabeth Masters (02) 6212 3957 or 0427 853 664

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017