Occasionally we have customers who fein ignorance of our Constitution. Even the most patriotic chap or chapess here lacks that memory of school recitations that, say, Americans display. Their famous document has had several amendments that many know by heart. Not so in Oz. The very underpinnings of our Constitution - a document we rarely ever see in public - are virtually lost in the mists of a mere 116 years and for goodness sake do not ask the average Australian to name a 'founding father'. You will get a blank look.
That ignorance has consequences.
Our Parliament has seen several newcomers swearing alliegence to the Constitution and the Crown on the Koran: a book that condemns we infidels and our democratic systems, not to mention our religious faith. The body politic is ill. To even allow this affront tells the diagnosticians amongst us that there is a serious virus around.
Nick Miller spoke up to an almost apathetic crowd the other evening and I had to remind some of their manners.
More than one third of Australians have not heard of the Constitution.The good news is, more than a half of Australians have heard of the Magna Carta, one of the founding documents of modern law and democracy.The bad news is, less than two-thirds of have heard of the Australian Constitution, a new survey has found.
More Australians know of the 1297 Magna Carta than they do of the Australian Constitution, according to an Ipsos MORI survey.
The Ipsos MORI survey was commissioned across 23 countries as part of the commemorations of the Magna Carta's 800th anniversary.More than 1000 Australians were surveyed, of whom 65 per cent had heard of the Australian Constitution, 59 per cent of the US Declaration of Independence, and 53 per cent of the Magna Carta.Most Australians are concerned about the right to freedom of speech being curbed today.Aussie awareness of the old document which established, among other things, the rule of law over the king, the right to trial by jury and the freedom from arbitrary arrest, was significantly higher than the international average of 39 per cent.Great Britain and the USA did best, Australia came sixth of the countries surveyed behind Spain, Italy and Hungary. Only six per cent of the French said they were aware of it.The survey did not explore whether Australia's knowledgeable score was thanks to a successful educational system, the popularity of the (hideously ahistorical) Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie, or what you might call "The Castle" syndrome.According to the Australian Senate website, "Magna Carta is much quoted by Australians when they are representing themselves in court cases."Some of its clauses are still part of Australian law inherited from the UK, though actually citing it in court is usually considered the sign of a rank amateur.The survey also found that:- 39 per cent of Australians felt that freedom of speech was under threat today in Australia, 35 per cent felt basic human rights were under threat, and 27 per cent chose freedom of religion.- In China, the survey organisation was not allowed to ask which rights people felt were under threat. Most other countries came up with similar answers to Australia, but India was more concerned with equal rights for women, and Russia with freedom from arbitrary arrest.As part of the anniversary this year, Australia's 1297 copy of the Magna Carta will be removed from its glass case at Parliament House for the first time in 50 years. It will be digitally scanned, examined by conservation experts then placed in a new display case.The original was sealed (not signed) at Runnymede by King John on June 15 1215, to settle a rebellion by powerful barons.Its 12th clause, that no tax should be levied without common consent, was the seed that grew into the modern parliamentary system.
Not that anyone reaching high office has taken a blind bit of notice. Taxes are decided in back-rooms and consent is taken from the silence of the ignorant.
The ignorance of the general population may have an explanation in the origins of the individuals. Oz has a considerable minority (around 25%) born elsewhere. But one would expect that those coming here would have some knowledge upon which to base their preferences: and that the immigration authorities would ensure they 'knew the rules' of the game of being a Person of Oz.
Not so it seems.
Looking at the anticedents helps and should be mandatory in our schools and immigration processes.
We were fortunate that Nick was in the bar at the same time as Augusto Zimmermann, who treated us to some needed background.
Constituting a Christian commonwealth:The Christian foundations of Australia's constitution“The Commonwealth of Australia will be, from its first stage, a Christian Commonwealth.”
— Sir John Downer, 1898.Australia’s Greens have announced that, when Parliament resumes in February, they will move to end the reading of prayers at the start of each sitting day. “The Lord’s Prayer in Federal Parliament is an anachronism”, says Greens leader Richard di Natale, who is calling to have the prayer scrapped. He will ask the Senate’s procedure committee to amend the standing orders and to do the same in the House of Representatives.
This reveals a form of secular ignorance and secular intolerance towards our nation’s Christian heritage. After all, Australia’s Constitution is deeply infused with religiosity from the outset. As one of the Constitution’s most distinguished co-authors, Sir John Downer, declared in 1898: “The Commonwealth of Australia will be, from its first stage, a Christian Commonwealth.”The Constitution of Australia Bill was passed by the Imperial (British) Parliament on July 5, 1900. Queen Victoria assented four days later, and in September proclaimed that the Commonwealth of Australia would come into existence on the first day of the 20th century (January 1, 1901).Like Sir John Downer, many of the other leading writers of the Constitution had strong views on the importance of Christianity to the Commonwealth.
For example, Sir Henry Parkes, known as “the Father of Australia’s Federation”, believed that Christianity comprised an essential part of Australia’s common law.
In a column published in the Sydney Morning Herald (August 26, 1885), Sir Henry stated:
“We are pre-eminently a Christian people — as our laws, our whole system of jurisprudence, our Constitution… are based upon and interwoven with our Christian belief.”Similar views were found among the drafters of the Constitution Bill in 1897. Among these were Edmund Barton, who entered politics under the influence of his Presbyterian minister, and the leading federalist and statesman of his day, Alfred Deakin. On the day following the referendum concerning the draft of the Constitution, which was held in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania on June 3, 1898, Deakin humbly offered a prayer of thanksgiving for all the progress that had been made, asking for Christ’s blessing on the endeavour: “Thy blessing has rested upon us here yesterday and we pray that it may be the means of creating and fostering throughout all Australia a Christ-like citizenship.”All of these statements are much more than just rhetoric. After all, the Christian belief of the Australian framers also made its way into the preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution: “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….”As Helen Irving has suggested in her book, To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia’s Constitution (1999), the preamble is that part of the Constitution laying out “the hopes and aspirations of the parties involved”, and, indeed,
the reference to God received the strongest popular support of any part of the Constitution.According to Professor Irving: “During the 1897 Convention, delegates had been inundated with petitions … in which the recognition of God in the Constitution was demanded. The petitions, organised nationally … asked for the recognition of God as the ‘supreme ruler of the universe’; for the declaration of national prayers and national days of thanksgiving and ‘humiliation’. But, the essence of their petition was that the Constitution should include a statement of spiritual — specifically Christian — identity for the new nation.”
The insertion of an acknowledgment of God into the preamble of the Australian Constitution occurred in response to overwhelmingly popular public support, which came, among other things, from countless petitions received from the citizens of every single colony in Australia.Overall, these petitions reflected the general sentiments of the people for “some outward recognition” of the Divine Providence, so that the work of the Australian Framers should “fix in our Constitution the elements of reverence and strength, by expressing our share of the universal sense that a Divine idea animates all our higher objects, and that the guiding hand of Providence leads our wanderings towards the dawn”.In the process of popular consultation, which took place during the constitutional drafting, the legislative assemblies of Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia all submitted proposed wordings for the preamble acknowledging God.
The Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, for example, proposed that the preamble should declare that the Australians are “grateful to Almighty God for their freedom, and in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings”. Similarly, the Legislative Assembly of Tasmania suggested that the Constitution’s preamble should “duly acknowledge Almighty God as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and the source of all true Government”.Furthermore, both the legislative assemblies of New South Wales and South Australia, as well as the Legislative Council of Western Australia, proposed a preamble “acknowledging Almighty God as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe”.This being so, John Quick (one of the drafters of the Constitution) and Robert Garran (who played a significant role in the Australian federation movement) wrote in their standard commentary on the Australian Constitution:
“This appeal to the Deity was inserted in the Constitution at the suggestion of most of the Colonial Legislative Chambers, and in response to numerous and largely signed petitions received from the people of every colony represented in the Federal Convention….“In justification of the insertion of the words, stress was laid on the great demonstration of public opinion in their favour, as expressed in the recommendations of the legislative bodies and in the petitions presented.”It may well be argued that the overwhelming public support for a reference to God in the Commonwealth Constitution reflected the view that the validity and success of an Australian federation was dependent on the providence of God.Speaking at the Constitutional Convention, Patrick Glynn of South Australia explained this precisely to be so and that it was to Australia’s credit that the new nation would have “[t]he stamp of religion … fixed upon the front of our institutions”.To conclude, the inclusion of the words, “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”, in the Constitution exemplifies Australia’s religious, and specifically Christian, heritage. It can, at the very least, be said that Judeo-Christian values were so embedded in Australia so as to necessitate the recognition of God in the nation’s founding document.When considered alongside the development of colonial laws, the adoption of the English common law tradition and the American system of federation, it is evident that the foundations of the Australian nation, and its laws, have discernible Christian roots.
Augusto Zimmermann, LLB, LLM, PhD (Monash), teaches legal theory and constitutional law at Murdoch University, Western Australia. He drinks occasionally in the Oz room at the Knight & Drummer Tavern. He is also president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA) and editor of The Western Australian Jurist. Last year he published a widely acclaimed book, Western Legal Theory: Theory, Concepts and Perspectives (Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2013).
WE drink to that and deplore the intrusions of the satanic Koran into our Government proceedings.
Sharpen your swords Gentlemen, Knights, Saints and yes even you mob of sinners. A sharp blade will be needed. Ladies sharpen your stilettos. Be sure, that the enemy has sharp blades ready for you !