I have a piece at the ABC’s Drum arguing that the Coalition needs to rediscover its constitutional conservatism: the reluctance to amend the constitution that has given Australia institutional stability over the last century:
The Australian founders may not have intended it to be this hard to change the constitution. But there are good reasons for constitutional change to be difficult.
Constitutions exist in order to provide fixed rules about what governments can and cannot do. The strength of a constitution derives from the certainty it provides. A constitution that can be easily changed is not a constitution at all, in that it does not offer the stability necessary for long term economic and political management. In the pre-constitutional era, governments did not feel bound by rules. Now they do. That’s a very good thing.
This does not mean constitutions should be impossible to alter. But the danger to the constitution comes from reckless change, not stubborn adherence to the status quo.
Yet the we’ve seen in the last couple of years an unfortunate abandonment of that conservative legacy:
In opposition, Abbott had signed up to Gillard’s local government referendum. He had to be pulled back into line by state Liberal party divisions.
Abbott wants to amend the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians. You only need observe how the recognition debate has spiralled out of the Government’s control to see how antithetical it is to the conservative mindset.
Now senior ministers of the government are seriously proposing a constitutional amendment for no other reason than to stack the deck against a policy they oppose. And that policy is, we are repeatedly told, a second-order issue.