The principles by which our nation is governed are described in the Constitution. Rather than being an obsolete document, the Constitution continues to excite debate and give direction in times of crisis.
The colonies came together in 1901 to form the Commonweath of Australia. Much of the early legislation enacted by the new parliament reflected the stated need over the previous decades for uniform policy on matters of national interest such as immigration. It was also a time when individual groups sought to have their rights, such as universal franchise, guaranteed.
Parliament is the national law-making institution. It also refers to the place where laws are debated and enacted, and to the elected representatives who carry out the law-making functions.
People interact with their parliament through the election process, but many individuals and lobby groups also address their grievances directly to parliament.
Amendments to the Australian Constitution can only be made if the proposed change is referred to eligible voters, and the change is approved by a majority of votes in a majority of states. Some of the 'hot topics' in Australian history – for example, conscription and recognition of Indigenous Australians as equal citizens – have been the subject of a referendum.
Law & justice
Laws enacted by the parliament directly affect the make-up and functioning of our society. The legal system adminsters our laws and aims to ensure that justice prevails.
Issues of who is or can become an Australian citizen are closely tied to government policy. It took a referendum in 1967 to change the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians as equal citizens. Earlier, the restrictive White Australia Policy precluded many non-Anglos from achieving citizenship. The fact that many still applied to become Australian despite these policies says something about the perception of the opportunities that Australia offered its citizens.