JSB178 Week Three Lecture Notes
The Constitution and the Role of Parliament
Diocletian was a prominent Roman Emperor of the third century.
He marked the change in Rome from the Principate to the Dominate (in other words, from a republic where
he would have been considered ‘first among equals’ to a Monarchy where he was a divinely selected ruler).
He also declared that every man must from that point onwards follow in the career path of his father, in
order to produce order and organisation in Rome.
This prevailed for the next 1200 or so years.
History of Parliament
Australia’s parliamentary system was inherited from England
The Anglo-Saxons parliament called the Witenagemot in which the King consulted with ‘wise men’ (i.e. the
wealthiest men). Kings were not under obligation to follow the wise men’s advice; however the wise men
had the right to insist that he hear their advice. Kings who continuously did not take advice often did not last
The Grand Council consisted of clergymen (bishops) and Lords who had the right to consultation under
contract. The King had no right to tax the commoners unless the commoners were allowed the right to
advise the King. Thus commoners were allowed to join the Grand Council.
1,227 people from each county were elected to join the Grand Council.
The Privy Council consisted of select individuals who advised the King in his daily decision making. The Privy
Council is the origin of the modern-day Cabinet.
In the early 1300s, commoners were excluded from most discussions, thus creating a bi-cameral system (two
houses of parliament).
What was the Power of Medieval Parliament?
A common uprising against King John in 1215 as a result of dissatisfaction with the King resulted in feudal
barons forcing the King to sign the Magna Carta – a charter which forced the King to limit his powers and
protect the barons’ privileges.
The King could not go to war without funds acquired from taxes, therefore it was in the King’s interest to tax
the people (members of parliament included).
However, the people could not be taxed unless they agreed to it, and would not agree to it unless there was
a mutual benefit. The commoners knew they could gain concessions from the King in exchange for taxation
(if the King was successful in war) and so they agreed.
Most Kings hated this as it meant that the parliament had, to a certain degree, power over the King.
English Civil War 1642 - 1651
There was much suspicion towards King Charles upon ascended the throne, which was fuelled by concern at
his marriage to a Catholic princess and his decision to dissolve the current parliament.
For the following ten to eleven years, Charles refused to call upon a new parliament, and this period of time
is often referred to as the ‘personal rules of Charles I’.
Without the parliament to provide the majority of the King’s finances, Charles took a number of measures to
raise and maintain money. This included making peace with France and Spain (effectively ending England’s
involvement in the Thirty Year War), and introducing long-forgotten or largely ignored taxes, much to the
displeasure of the people.
After a Scottish rebellion and subsequent advancement of the Scottish Army, Charles was forced to
reconsider the lack of parliament and re-instated it. However, due to hostilities towards the King, he again
dissolved the parliament within only a matter of week (hence the reference ‘Short Parliament’).
Further financial strains forced the King to again bring back Parliament, which this time lasted and was thus
referred to as the ‘Long Parliament’. Nevertheless, the Long Parliament proved even more hostile towards
the King and held considerably higher negotiating power with him. This resulted in a number of Parliament powers, such as the requirements for Parliament to approve much of the King’s decisions before they could
As relations and negotiations between the King and Parliament began to break down, so did the peoples’
trust in the King. The Royal Navy and most major English cities began to favour Parliament, while rural towns
were in support of the King. Eventually the King was captured by the Scots and turned over to England to be
During imprisonment, the King arranged a private deal with the Scottish which ultimately led to his
condemnation by English Parliament. On the question of his betrayal, it was decided that he was not fit to
return to power and he was then executed by beheading. This was quite radical for the time, as no-one who
had not been a King had ever beheaded a King before.
Commonwealth 1649 - 1660
Upon King Charles’ death, the Commonwealth of England ruled England except for brief period of time
(often during Parliament disagreement) where Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector until his death.
After Cromwell’s death, his son became Lord Protector. However, the Army had little faith in him and as a
result, reinstated the monarchy.
The Restoration 1660
This resulted in Charles II being called back from exile and offered the position as King in his father’s
footsteps (which he accepted), an event known as the Restoration. The restoration of monarchy, however,
was not without Parliament influence and therefore England was operated under a parliamentary monarchy
Upon Charles’ II death, his younger brother, James II, came to power.
Glorious Revolution 1688
James II removed from power for attempting to instate Catholicism into England and for producing a
Catholic heir. He subsequently fled the country and therefore abdicated the throne.
James II was replaced by his Protestant eldest daughter Mary II and her husband, William II, who became
joint monarchs. At this point, however, the majority of power had once again shifted to the Parliament.
The new system of government in which the Parliament’s powers were once again increased came to be
known as a constitutional monarchy.
This meant that the Kings could no longer be considered ‘divinely chosen’ and that all people – monarchs
included – were bound by the constitution (law).
Monarchs gradually began to have a reduced role in politics, and this continues today where all British
monarchs remain politically neutral.
Queensland became the first British colony to establish an elected Parliament.
This parliament consists of two houses:
o The Legislative Assembly
Elected by limited male suffrage
Government formed from this House
o The Legislative Council