Royal Commission of Assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (UK)

This document, titled Royal Commission of Assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, was signed by Queen Victoria on 9 July 1900. The Queen's assent enacted the Australian Constitution, founding the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a single sheet of vellum measuring 51 centimetres x 66 centimetres. The name Muir McKenzie appears on the bottom. Attached to it by a crimson and silver bullion cord with tassels is a round silver case containing the wax seal with the royal insignia, used to verify that the document came from the monarch.

Educational value

  • In this document Queen Victoria gives her assent to the Australian Constitution Act passed by the British Parliament, which created the Commonwealth of Australia, reflecting the fact that the Australian nation was given legal form by Britain. It is one of the three founding documents of Australia, along with the Australian Constitution Act itself, which established the Australian Constitution, and the Letters Patent establishing the office of the governor-general of Australia.
  • With the signing of this document, the former British colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania formally agreed to become members of the Commonwealth of Australia. Referendums in each of the five colonies had supported this move. Provision was made in the Constitution for Western Australia to join after it had done the same, as it did three weeks later.
  • Queen Victoria signed this document at her main residence, Windsor Castle, just outside London in England. The document was brought back to Australia by Edmund Barton (1849–1920), who became Australia's first prime minister when the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated on 1 January 1901. As is usual in granting assent, the Queen signed two originals; the other is kept in the House of Lords archives in Westminster, London.
  • Great care was taken to ensure this document was made of high-quality materials to reflect its importance. The Queen also made a gift to the new nation of the pen, inkstand and table she used to sign the document at Windsor Castle. The table, made of brass and ebony, was also used at the Commonwealth of Australia inauguration ceremony in Centennial Park in Sydney on 1 January 1901 and is now kept in Parliament House in Canberra.
  • Reflecting the centuries of royal authority, the language of this document is highly formal and legalistic. In it, the Queen informs the British Parliament that she 'cannot conveniently at this time be present' to give her assent in person in the House of Lords, as the 'accustomed place' for assent to be 'openly and publicly' granted. In fact, the Queen had not visited the House of Lords to give royal assent in person to any Act since 1854.
  • In the United Kingdom, as under the Australian Constitution, the British monarch must give royal assent for all bills passed by Parliament to become law. Royal assent has not been refused since 1707–08, emphasising the pre-eminence of parliament within a constitutional monarchy. Australia is also a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch as the head of state. In Australia it is the monarch's representative, the governor-general, who usually assents to Bills to make them Acts.

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This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

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