ACT Legislative Assembly


INTRODUCTION

The 2017 ACT Schools Constitutional Convention is scheduled for Thursday 27 July and Friday 28 July 2017 at the following locations: National Archives of Australia, The Museum of Australian Democracy and the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory.

The topic for the 2017 convention will be Should the Commonwealth Parliament have specific powers to legislate for the environment?

Expression of Interest form

Aims of the Convention

The ACT Schools Constitutional Convention aims to:

  • provide an opportunity for students in Years 11 to explore contemporary constitutional issues
  • encourage students to become better informed about the Australian system of government and how the Australian Constitution provides the framework for our democracy
  • encourage senior students to take an active interest in the traditions, processes and practices of government
  • allow students to discuss and debate contemporary Australian political issues.

An Overview of the Program

The ACT Schools Constitutional Convention is organised collaboratively by the National Archives of Australia, ACT Legislative Assembly, the ACT Department of Education and Training, Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House), the Australian Electoral Commission and Elections ACT.

The program is designed specifically for Year 11 students. It is anticipated that the students will have an interest in civics, active citizenship and current affairs; be willing to act as an ambassador for their school / college and be accompanied by a supervising teacher.

The convention is a two day program. The first day takes place at the National Archives and Old Parliament House where students will learn about the Constitution and its role as a foundation document in Australian democracy. Students will visit the new Museum of Australian Democracy for a historical perspective on constitutional issues, and take part in a role play on the Franklin River at Old Parliament House.

The second Day takes place at the ACT Legislative Assembly where the convention will debate a topical constitutional change, namely the issue of whether the Commonwealth Parliament should have broad powers to legislate for the environment?

As a convention delegate, you will be expected to read the attached research material, undertake additional research (if you feel you need to), actively engage in discussion and debate over the two days and be sufficiently informed to vote in the referendum at the end of the second day.

Delegates are expected to attend the full two day program, and will be required to sign in and out of each session to record individual attendance.

Five students will be selected from this year's participants to represent the ACT at the next year's National Schools Convention at Parliament House, Canberra. One hundred and twenty students from around Australia will be at this national event.

The Theme of the Convention

This year's Convention will investigate the constitutional powers that were the focus of the Franklin River issue and subsequent environmental issues, namely whether the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia should have specific powers to legislate on the environment. We will consider a broad range of arguments for and against the issue and the question of whether such a change is appropriate with respect to the views of states and territories. We will also look at how constitutional change is affected through Section 128 and the operation of a referendum.

Background material

The purpose of this section is to provide some background for students attending the Convention. Please consider this material prior to your arrival at the Convention.

Further instruction will be provided to you at the beginning of each session, but you may wish to review the program and consider the activities we will be undertaking as part of your preparation. There will be ample opportunity at the Convention to discuss the concepts raised in this paper with the speakers and your fellow delegates.

During the Convention we will explore a range of possible options, including changing the Constitution and maintaining the status quo.

In order to change the Constitution, a referendum must be held, in which the public are asked to vote yes or no to a specific change. For an amendment to pass it must have what is known as a double majority. That is, it must be supported by a majority of electors in the majority of States passing the amendment. That is, more than half the voters throughout Australia vote 'yes' AND more than half the voters in the majority of States vote 'yes'. Note that the two Territories are not included in this count; the majority must be achieved in four out of six states (see section 128 of the Constitution attached to this document).

Remember if your state/territory believes current arrangements are adequate you will be able to vote against any change.

State and Commonwealth Government relations with respect to the environment

The Australian State of the Environment Report of 1996 was the first ever independent and comprehensive report on the state of Australia's environment. The report showed that Australia has a beautiful, diverse and unique environment. It found that some aspects of the nation's environment are in good condition by international standards, and that Australia also has some serious environmental problems. The Report's Executive Summary gave an overview of environmental management responses, and divided these responses into commendable actions, questionable actions, and poor responses. Heading the poor responses was the following:

The national ability to manage the environment is continually hamstrung by structural problems between different areas of government. Standards vary from State to State, and State and Commonwealth governments frequently battle over environmental issues.................

Clearly intergovernmental relationships are a major factor in environmental management.

Under Section 51, the Australian Constitution defines the powers of the Commonwealth but makes little reference to the environment. With the growing emergence of environmental issues and awareness in Australia since the early 1970's, the Commonwealth has been grappling with the issue of their role to play and their relationship with the States in regard to environmental management.

Hence the Australian Constitution provides the Commonwealth with specific powers (you will need to be familiar with the Section 51 of the Constitution attached to this document) while the remanding powers lie with the States. The Constitution does not mention the environment except for section 100 which allows the Commonwealth to make a law limiting "the reasonable use of waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation". As a consequence of this the States and Territories have traditionally been considered to have primary responsibility for the management of the environment.

There are three main reasons why environmental issues have remained with the States, namely:

  • there was little environmental consciousness or concern with the preservation of the environment at the turn of the 19th century
  • the framers of the Constitution may have seen the environment as something to be tamed and exploited rather than something to be protected
  • issues such as land, mineral and static resources would have been seen as an item of State concern

So with the continuing growing concerns about the preservation of the environment in various areas of Australia, it is your turn to decide – Should the Commonwealth Parliament have broad powers to legislate for the environment? You will consider the big picture initially and then, by considering a case study as a delegate of a state or territory and through your reading, will decide how your state or territory will vote on the issue in the referendum.

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Page last updated on 18 April 2017
2015 Legislative Assembly for the ACT