The National Schools Constitution Convention is a meeting place of the great youth political minds of Australia. For three days, students from every state and territory meet to discuss and debate a particular constitutional issue. For the 2018 Convention, the topic was “Is Section 44 Relevant in a Modern Australia?”. For those who haven’t memorised their founding document, Section 44 is concerned about the qualities of an individual that would disqualify them from being nominated as a member of parliament. With the Senate suddenly appearing to be a farcical meeting of the United Nations, Section 44 suddenly came out of constitutional law obscurity to cover the headlines of every newspaper under the sun.
To get to our nation’s capital to debate a matter of such importance, I first had to make it through a regional and state convention. While at these, other important issues such as compulsory voting, and lowering the voting age to 16, were mentally sparred in the chambers of Victorian Parliament. Yet, from the roughly 120 participants at the State convention, I was chosen to be one of 24 delegates from Victoria. To help us better understand the intricacies of constitutional law, and the circumstances around Section 44, the convention provided us with the opportunity to hear from many professionals in the legal and political sphere. Academics such as Professor George Williams, the Dean of Law at NSW to the Principal Registrar of the High Court Andrew Phelan, shared their opinions and knowledge on the issue. By the end of the convention, our group of High School students became a knowledgeable class of individuals able to rattle off statistics and history relevant to the aforementioned clause with ease.Yet, while a highly intensive event, with 14hr long days, there were always moments to stand back and enjoy the wonderful opportunity that had been granted to us. One of those moments was on the second night where we attended a dinner at the High Court, a building whose modern brutalist architecture embodies the symbolism of the weight of the law of the land, fitting for the document we were debating at the time. During this dinner, there was a moment where, standing on the balcony looking into the foyer and out towards parliament, the true significance of where we were and what we were a part of set in.
To finish the convention, all the delegates propose amendments to the constitution, and a mock referendum was held between the delegates from each state run by the AEC. Amendments were proposed so that the disqualifying factors only applied when the member is sworn in, not when they nominate for the job. Dual citizens were made eligible for the parliament as long as they did not have an active “acknowledgement, obedience or adherence” to a foreign power or become a dual citizen during the course of their term. As someone who is a dual citizen, and as I discovered during the course of the convention a possible ‘tri citizen’, these amendments were something that I was happy to see. I was also impressed by the results of the referendum, with a double majority being achieved (a majority of the national vote, and a majority of states in favour), and Victoria being the most progressive state with a vote of 83% in favour.
Other highlights included talking with Penny Wong, attending the Senate Question Time and being invited to attend a formal function at Government House with the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. For students with a passion in the civic sphere, this is an event that I encourage you to attend. I’m thankful to all the friends I made, the staff from the NCS who helped run the event, and Scotch for providing me with this fantastic extension studies opportunity.