Documenting Democracy
Australia's Story
Why are these documents significant today?

Collected on this website are the sets of documents which tell the story of Australia's democracy. They are chosen because each is important to our lives today. Because they didn't just happen – each document has its own story.

People make governments

In a democracy, people make governments. Changes to the authority of government must be approved by the governed. In some cases, the documents that created change were the result of demands by the governed; in every case, their authority depends on the agreement of the people who are governed.

Democracy is based on legal instruments

Governments, through parliaments and courts, make, shape and enforce laws. They also need legal instruments to do this – letters, orders, instructions from a higher authority, or constitutions setting out the basis of their own authority to make laws.

Australian democracy works because of its legal instruments. Australia is a documentary democracy – we can tell the story of our country through tracing the documents which give our governments the right to govern. The documents show that the source of authority in our constitutional monarchy is the Crown.

These documents belong to all of us

Most of us have never seen most of these documents before – and some of these original documents have never been to Australia. All these documents nevertheless belong to Australians as they shaped our past and our present, and remind us that we are responsible for the documents that will shape the future.

How did we ensure that the featured documents really are significant?

The documents featured on Documenting a Democracy were selected by an advisory panel of experts in the fields of political science, history and law.

National Advisory Panel members

The Hon. John Bannon is the Master of St Mark's College, University of Adelaide, and is currently undertaking postgraduate research on the federation of Australia and the Constitution at the Flinders University of South Australia. He was the Premier of South Australia from 1982 to 1992.

Professor David Black is Professor Emeritus at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia. He was editor of The House on the Hill: A History of the Parliament of Western Australia 1832–1990 and has been Chairman of the Parliamentary History Advisory Committee of the Western Australian Parliament since 1994.

Dr Lenore Coltheart has taught Australian politics and history in universities in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia, where she was Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Adelaide. She was a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby in the Northern Territory, and Editor of Australia's Current Affairs Bulletin.

Dr Mick Dodson is Chairman of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and a Director of Dodson, Bauman & Associates Pty Ltd – Legal & Anthropological consultants. He is also Director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the Australian National University.

Dr Dodson was Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, serving as Commissioner from April 1993 until January 1998.

Born in the Northern Territory Township of Katherine, Mick was educated in Katherine, Darwin and Hamilton, Victoria. He completed a Bachelor of Jurisprudence and a Bachelor of Laws at Monash University. He has an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Technology, Sydney. He also holds an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of New South Wales. In 1998 he was awarded the Monash University Alumni Association Medal. He worked with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service from 1979 to 1981. He joined the Victorian Bar in 1981. From 1984 he acted as Senior Legal Adviser with the Northern Land Council and became Director of the Council in 1990.

Dr Richard Ely is a graduate of the universities of Sydney, Queensland and Tasmania and was Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Tasmania. Dr Ely is the General Editor of Historical Bibliographies of Tasmania and Editor of Tasmanian Historical Studies.

Dr Helen Irving is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Sydney. She is the author of To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia's Constitution published by Cambridge University Press in 1997 and 1999.

Professor Stuart Macintyre is the Ernest Scott Professor of History and Dean of Arts at the University of Melbourne. He compiled A Concise History of Australia published in 1999 and, with Graeme Davison and John Hirst, edited The Oxford Companion to Australian History published in 1998.

Dr Clive Moore is an Associate Professor in the History Department of the University of Queensland. Best known for his work with Australia's South Sea Islanders, his research interests include Melanesia, Queensland, and Australian social history. He is co-author with Raymond Evans, Kay Saunders and Bryan Jamieson of 1901: our future's past, a documentary history of Federation.

Dr Robert Nicol was South Australian State Historian and a Visiting Research Fellow in History at the University of Adelaide, where he was formerly a senior lecturer. He has been President of the Historical Society of South Australia since 1984.

Emeritus Professor Alan Powell is a graduate of the University of New England in Armidale New South Wales and of LaTrobe University in Melbourne. He was foundation Dean of Arts at both the University College of the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory University.

Peter Quinton is the Director of the General Law Group of the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety.

Dr Kay Saunders AM is Reader in History at the University of Queensland and was advisor to the Premier of Queensland on women's policy. She was Director of the National Australia Day Council from 1992 to 1996.

Dr John Williams is Senior Lecturer in the Law School at the Australian National University. His research interests are in the area of Constitutional law, human rights and legal history. His publications include a history of the Australian Constitution published by Melbourne University Press in 2005.

Emeritus Professor Leslie Zines AO, is Visiting Fellow in the Law Program in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Professor Zines' publications include The High Court and The Constitution in 1997 and Constitutional Change in The Commonwealth in 1991.