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Constitutional Background

The Constitution came into effect on 1 January 1901 as part of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act which is still relevant for its interpretation. The Australian Constitution 1900 is an act of the Westminster Parliament. It is therefore UK legislation granted for the purposes of a self-governing colony, as witnessed by Section 2 of the Act, continually vesting sovereignty in the UK monarchy, as well as Section 57 (3) (with 58, 59, 60), 128 (4), and 74 (3) of the Constitution, preserving the "Queen's assent" and "Royal prerogative".

Australia joined the League of Nations on 10 January 1920, but there is no specific date for the independence from Britain. Rather, at least until 1942, the UK parliament had the power to legislate for Australia, and Australia did not appoint any ambassadors until during World War II. Furthermore, Australia did not separately declare war in 1939: Britain was at war and therefore Australia was, too.


Until 1931, the laws of the United Kingdom applied to former colonies and dominions such as Australia. The Statute of Westminster then provided for future laws passed by the Westminster Parliament only having effect in such countries which expressly requested and consented to it. These countries were also empowered to repeal or amend the effect in their territories of any previously enacted laws of the United Kingdom. Another effect of the Statute was to make it possible for a country to request an alteration of its own Constitution by the Westminster Parliament.


In 1942, by the passage of this Act, the Australian Government adopted the Statute of Westminster with effect from 3 Sep 1939 - i.e., the date on which the United Kingdom entered World War II.


The Statute of Westminster Adoption Act only affected the laws of the Commonwealth, and the laws of the United Kingdom continued to apply in the States. In 1986, the passage of this Commonwealth Act ended the applicability of laws of the United Kingdom in all States of Australia, and rationalised Commonwealth and State powers inherited from the United Kingdom. This Act also repealed parts of the Statute of Westminster, including a Section adopted in 1942, insofar as they applied to Australia.

History and News

  • 2 March 1996: Opposition Liberal Party wins parliamentary elections. John Howard becomes Australia's 25th Prime Minister.
  • 1993: Labor Party under Paul Keating wins against the opposition Liberal-National coalition under John Hewson.
  • 1991: Paul Keating takes over as Prime Minister.
  • 1983: Labor wins power.
  • 10 Jan 1920: Australia joins the League of Nations.
  • 1 Jan 1901: Constitution becomes effective; this can, arguably, be counted as a date for independence from the United Kingdom.  Others possible dates are 1920, 1931, 1942, 1986 or even a future date when Australia may remove the British Monarch as head of state.
  • 9 July 1900: Constitution adopted.
  • 26 Jan 1788: Australia Day (national holiday).

For methodology see: Comparing Constitutions and International Constitutional Law.
© 1994 - December 15th, 2010 / For corrections please contact J. Thomas or A. Tschentscher.