Hat’s Off to John Christensen

Members of the Broken Hill community enjoyed John Christensen’s talk ‘Hats off to the Constitution’ at the Broken Hill City Library on Thursday evening.

Locals who turned out for the talk heard about the social history of how Australia came to have a Constitution.

“Not many people have the opportunity to hear how the Constitution came about. This has been great. The first time I ever heard about the Constitution was when the constitutional crisis happened in 1975, I was a year 10 student,” Broken Hill local Heather Picken said.

John and Marg Christensen are two retired grey nomads who have been travelling around Australia.

“John only agreed to come on this trip when he realised he could give talks to schools, local community groups and library groups,” Marg Christensen said.

“Marg organises the events and I give the talks,” Mr Christensen said.

Mr Christensen also hopes Australia will embrace the idea that Australia’s Federal Constitution should be relocated in its entirety from its current location as part of the United Kingdom Act of Parliament to an Australian document.

Mr Christensen explained that as far back as 1877 the dominion of Australia was being considered a nation at home and abroad but there was nothing legalising this idea internationally.

By 1886, around 20 years after Britain had stopped exporting convicts to Australia other European powers such as France were exploring the idea of sending convicts to the Pacific.

This made the colonies (now our States) nervous and was possibly part of the impetus that drove Henry Parkes bringing together people such as Alfred Deakin, Edmund Barton, Charles Kingston to consider a constitutional document for Australia.

Delegates across the country were charged with the task of writing and delivering a draft constitution.

The existence of a draft meant its provisions could be vigorously discussed and debated and delegates were elected and sent from the colonies to rewrite the constitution.

NZ who had attended the first meeting chose not to participate in the second meeting.

By 1897 South Australian women had won the vote and Catherine Spence put herself forward as a delegate for the second constitutional convention.

Although she failed to be elected, she won a considerable number of votes.

Initially, the idea was to copy the Canadian constitution but it gave too much power to the central government.

The resulting document borrowed the best of parts of systems used in five countries; Canada, Britain Switzerland, Norway and the United States.

The resulting document was passed in the British parliament as part of the British or United Kingdom (‘UK’) Act of Parliament.

Mr Christensen performed a song called ‘It’s our Constitution’ to highlight the idea of relocating Australia’s Constitution in its entirety to Australia.

Mr Christensen is not advocating for changes to the Constitution itself rather that the Constitution become an Australian statute, making it an Australian document.

Although he does not expect to witness the Constitution’s relocation to an Australian statute in his lifetime, he hopes others may see the need.

The Australia Act of 1986 achieved full de jure from the UK in 1986. This stopped UK’s parliament from passing legislation regarding Australian states and abolished all appeals from Australian courts to the Privy council, a body of advisers appointed by the Queen or Governor-General.

Even if Australia were to become a republic the document that legitimises our nation internationally would remain in Britain.

John Christensen’s idea to relocate Australia’s Constitution in its entirety could be the first step toward constitutional reform.

The Constitution doesn’t define reasonable use of water in section 100 of the Constitution, and this has caused considerable debate about what is a reasonable use of water from the Murray and Darling Rivers system for decades.

The Australian Human rights Commission advocate for the need for constitutional reform particularly to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.

The Broken Hill locals who turned out for the talk thanked Mr Christensen for his informative talk.

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