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Ways of Changing Constitutions

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Federal Convention Adelaide 1897
Federal Convention, Adelaide 1897
In 1891 the first National Australian Convention, with New Zealand, assembled in Melbourne. A draft Federal Constitution Bill was drawn. In the following six years there were a series of conventions to finalise the shape of the new federal system. Shown here is the Adelaide convention where Sir John Forrest is located in the second row third from the left.
Battye Library 849B

Commonwealth Constitution

The words of the Commonwealth Constitution can only be changed by the referendum procedure set out in Section 128 of the Constitution. However, its operation may be affected in other ways. Changing the Constitution may mean:

  1. Formal change to the written text itself. (Referendums)

  2. Legal change to the application of the written text. (Interpretation and decisions of the High Court)

  3. Changing practices outside the written text. (Conventions)

  4. Changing political-constitutional realities that affect the way the Constitution works in practice. (Tied grants)

  5. Political adjustments (Referral of powers).

Western Australian Constitution

Amending the Western Australian Constitution requires an absolute majority, or more than half, of all the members of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly. Additionally, since 1978, a referendum is required for amendments to:

  • abolish or alter the office of Governor;

  • abolish or reduce the number of the Members of Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly;

  • provide that either House has members other than members chosen directly by the people.

To date no such referendum has been proposed.