The Australian Constitution can be changed through a process known as a constitutional amendment. The procedure for amending the constitution is outlined in Section 128 of the Constitution itself. Here are the key steps:
Proposal of Amendment:
- Any proposed amendment must be first introduced and passed in either house of the Australian Parliament (House of Representatives or Senate).
- Alternatively, a proposal can be initiated by a constitutional convention, which is a gathering of elected representatives from the states and territories.
Double Majority Requirement:
- After the proposal is passed in one house, it must be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum.
- This majority must also include a majority of voters in a majority of the states (at least four out of six states).
- Once the proposed amendment has been approved in the referendum, it is then presented to the Governor-General for formal approval.
- The Governor-General's role is largely ceremonial, and assent is typically given as a matter of constitutional convention.
- Finally, the amendment is sent to the British monarch for approval (royal assent), as Australia is a constitutional monarchy. However, this is considered a formality, and royal assent has never been refused.
- The amendment takes effect from the date specified in the amendment itself or, if no date is specified, on the day it receives royal assent.
It's important to note that the Australian Constitution has only been amended a relatively small number of times since its adoption in 1901. The amendment process is intentionally rigorous to ensure that any changes reflect broad public support and are not made lightly. Additionally, certain parts of the Constitution, such as the provisions regarding the representation of states in the Senate, are protected by a special provision that requires the consent of the states involved in any proposed changes.