The Federation Press

The Constitution and Government of Australia, 1788 to 1919

Overview

Between 1910 and 1919, William Pitt Cobbett, former Professor of Law and Dean of the Sydney Law School, wrote what would become his great opus on the Constitution and Government of Australia but the manuscript was never published. Its publication had been frustrated in the period following his death by the High Court’s judgment in the Engineers Case in 1920 and the new constitutional order it created. A century later, Professor Anne Twomey, has edited Cobbett’s original manuscript, taking care to preserve the integrity of his work.

The Federation Press, with the support of the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History, will publish this important historical work which provides a detailed perspective of how the Constitution operated in the first two decades after federation.

"This manuscript represents one of the most poignant tragedies of life—the failure to fulfil a high aim because sickness and ultimately death stepped in to bar the way." — from the Preface by J Macmillan Brown, September 1922

Reviews

William Pitt Cobbett largely completed the original manuscript of his opus on the Constitution shortly before his death in 1919. While it was intended to be posthumously published, in 1920 the High Court’s constitutional jurisprudence radically shifted in the Engineers case ((1920) 28 CLR 129). At the time, this would have required a substantial revision for the work to remain current, and so the manuscript was given to the University of Sydney Law School – of which he had been a Professor and Dean – as a memorial. Now a century on, the manuscript has been carefully and ably transcribed, edited and published for the first time.
Those involved are to be greatly thanked. In addition to the text, there is a fascinating biographical note by Professor Anne Twomey and a comprehensive introduction to Cobbett’s work outlining what has changed since it was written, what remains the same and his unique insights relevant to today. While the importance of the work is that it paints a portrait of the history and early interpretation of the Constitution up to 1919 before the High Court’s decision in Engineers, its value is not merely one of historical interest. As Twomey perhaps understates, “it occasionally also shocks with the modernity and prescience of its contents”. This is a most important, if not necessary, text for any scholar of Australian legal history and constitutional law. - Queensland Law Reporter – 18 October 2019 – [2019] 41 QLR 7

Table of Contents

Editorial Note
William Pitt Cobbett – Biographical Note
Pitt Cobbett – A Portrait of Australia’s Constitution at 1919

Part I: The Colonial History of Australia

1. The British Occupation and Subdivision of Australia
2. The Government of the Australian Colonies
3. The Foundations of the Commonwealth
4. The Constitution of the Commonwealth
5. The Commonwealth as a United Society

Part II: Imperial Factors in Australian Government

6. The Nature and Sources of Imperial Control
7. The Status and Powers of the Colonial Legislatures
8. Subjects of Imperial Control, and the Question of Imperial Consolidation

Part III: The Federal Government

9. The Office of the Governor-General
10. The Federal Parliament
11. The Federal Electoral System
12. The Powers of the Federal Parliament
13. Legislative Methods and Procedure
14. The Executive Government of the Commonwealth
15. The Federal Judicature

Part IV: The States and the Federal Territories

16. The Constitutional Position and Powers of the States
17. The Relation of the States and the Commonwealth
18. The Relations of the States Inter Se
19. The Federal Territories

Secondary and Other Sources
Table of Cases
Table of Legislation
Index

Of interest...