LAW 2501 - Australian Constitutional Law

North Terrace Campus - Semester 1 - 2017

The course discusses selected topics relating to the Australian constitutional system. Topics include Commonwealth and State legislative power, including constitutional interpretation; the process of characterisation and an examination of heads of power specified in s51 of the Australian Constitution; the legal relations between the Commonwealth and the States and the resolution of inconsistencies between laws; implications in The Australian Constitution; Commonwealth and State social and economic relations; and constitutional rights.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code LAW 2501
    Course Australian Constitutional Law
    Coordinating Unit Adelaide Law School
    Term Semester 1
    Level Undergraduate Law (LLB)
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Up to 3 hours per week
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange Y
    Prerequisites LAW 1501, LAW 1504
    Incompatible LAW 2003
    Restrictions Available to LLB students only
    Course Description The course discusses selected topics relating to the Australian constitutional system. Topics include Commonwealth and State legislative power, including constitutional interpretation; the process of characterisation and an examination of heads of power specified in s51 of the Australian Constitution; the legal relations between the Commonwealth and the States and the resolution of inconsistencies between laws; implications in The Australian Constitution; Commonwealth and State social and economic relations; and constitutional rights.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Professor Alex Reilly

    ALEX REILLY (Co-course Coordinator)

    CORNELIA KOCH (Co-Course Coordinator)

    Consultation: by appointment

    Other teaching staff TBC.

    Any questions about the organisation of the course or general course matters should be directed to Alex or Cornelia after first checking this guide. All questions regarding a student’s learning in Australian Constitutional Law should be raised with seminar leaders. All members of academic staff are committed to assisting students in their learning and are available to meet with students. Students can make an appointment to see a staff member at a time of mutual convenience.

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.


    All lectures will be recorded and placed on MyUni as soon as the links are made available, usually on the same afternoon that the lecture is delivered. A virtual lecture will also be made available in this course. Students who enrol in this lecture are not required to attend the live lecture being given. Students who choose to enrol in a virtual lecture can attend the normal lecture provided there is room in the lecture.


    For each week in which substantive content is taught in the course, 2-3 short videos (10-30 minutes) will be available for students to review prior to attending the lecture and seminar. These videos will provide students with background and detail for the material covered in the lecture, and the questions and activities to be undertaken in the lecture and seminar.


    Students in this course are expected to attend or listen to all lectures throughout the semester plus one two-hour seminar class each fortnight. Please enrol in a seminar via Access Adelaide.

    Class participation makes up 10% of the assessment in this course. To receive marks for class participation, students must attend the seminars in which they are enrolled.

    Seminars run on a fortnightly cycle from week 1 to week 12. Students must check their timetable carefully to ensure they attend their seminar in the correct week.
  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes

    The Legal Practitioners' Education and Admissions Council (LPEAC) sets rules for the academic requirements for admission to legal practice in South Australia. Students must demonstrate a satisfactory level of understanding and application of 11 core areas of legal knowledge. This course teaches the following topics within these core areas:
    · State constitutions and constitutional systems,
    · The constitution and operation of the legislature, and
    · The relationship between the different levels of government.

    Australian Constitutional Law concerns the study of the fundamental law of a community; the law that governs the relationship of the government to its people. The course is designed to give students an understanding of the operations of general principles of constitutional law, as well as specific Australian constitutional issues including federalism, the distribution and exercise of legislative power, constitutional rights and freedoms, and Federal/State intergovernmental and financial relations.

    On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

    1. Describe key constitutional law concepts, including methods of interpretation, characterisation of laws, and the relationship between the Parliament, the Executive and the Courts.
    2. Explain the criteria for the validity of Commonwealth laws, and the role of institutions of government in making, excecuting and interpretating laws.
    3. Apply consititional law principles to determine the validity of real and hypothetical Commonwealth and State laws in the light of the contexts (international, cultural, social and other) in which the Australian constitutional system operates.
    4. Reflect upon and critique the development of constiutional law principles in Australia.
    5. Present, both orally and in writing, constitutional arguments and critiques of those arguments.
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Deep discipline knowledge
    • informed and infused by cutting edge research, scaffolded throughout their program of studies
    • acquired from personal interaction with research active educators, from year 1
    • accredited or validated against national or international standards (for relevant programs)
    Critical thinking and problem solving
    • steeped in research methods and rigor
    • based on empirical evidence and the scientific approach to knowledge development
    • demonstrated through appropriate and relevant assessment
    Intercultural and ethical competency
    • adept at operating in other cultures
    • comfortable with different nationalities and social contexts
    • Able to determine and contribute to desirable social outcomes
    • demonstrated by study abroad or with an understanding of indigenous knowledges
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    1. Course Guide (Available from Image and Copy Centre).
    2. Videos (Available online via MyUni).
    3. Blackshield Williams, Australian Constitutional Law and Theory (Federation Press, 6th ed, 2014).
    4. The Australian Constitution (Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK)). Students will find a copy of the Australian Constitution, along with the Statute of Westminster 1931 (UK) and the Australia Act 1986 (Cth), at the back of the Blackshield and Williams text. Alternatively these constitutional documents can be accessed on the internet from the Commonwealth legislation homepage:
    5. The South Australian Constitution (Constitution Act 1934 (SA)) Students can download a copy from the South Australian Parliament’s website at
    Recommended Resources

    For students looking for a more basic explanation of the principles covered in this course to springboard into the more complicated readings and exercises, we recommend the following texts:

    • Joseph and Castan, Federal Constitutional Law: A Contemporary View (4th ed, Lawbook Co, 2014)
    • Appleby, Reilly and Grenfell, Australian Public Law (2nd ed, Oxford, 2014)
    • Keyzer, Principles of Australian Constitutional Law, LexisNexis (4th ed, Lawbook Co, 2013)
    Students may wish to dip into alternative texts to understand the area in greater depth, or just to read a different perspective on the area. Good texts for these purposes include:

    Aroney, Gerangelos, Murray and Stellios, The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

    Gerangelos, Lee, Murray, Evans and Emerton, Winterton's Australian Federal Constitutional Law: Commentary and Materials (3rd Ed, Thomsons, 2013)

    Clarke, Keyzer and Stellios, Hanks' Australian Constitutional Law: Materials and Commentary (9th ed, LexisNexis, 2013)

    Online Learning
    Many of the materials in this course will be available on MyUni. This includes videos exploring key concepts and cases.

    All course announcements will be sent out via MyUni.

    Students are encouraged to use the discussion board on MyUni.

    All lectures will be made available on MyUni.

    The interim assignment, peer review assignment and take-home exam will be submitted, marked and returned electronically. The quizzes on basic concepts and case reading assignment will be online quizzes.
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes

    Lectures will provide an overview of the various topics in the course and will elucidate some of the connecting themes between the various parts of the course. In the lectures, the general legal principles in a topic will be covered, rather than the detail of the cases in that topic. This detail is provided in the videos (see below). Lectures will also include interactive responses to problem and discussion questions, similar to those students will be asked to answer in the seminars and written assessment.

    Videos will provide students with further detail on some of the key cases and concepts in the readings. We recommend students watch the videos before attending seminars.

    The seminars provide a forum for academic staff and students to engage together on the subject of Australian Constitutional Law. Before attending their seminars, students are required to work through a list of extracts from the Blackshield & Williams text and attempt to answer the questions set in the Course Guide.

    Online quizzes will allow students to self-assess their understanding of the key concepts in each topic. Students may choose to
    complete these quizzes before or after the seminars, but we strongly recommend students complete these quizzes as they learn each topic, in order to consolidate their understanding as they go.

    For each seminar, the Course Guide contains:

    • The readings students must complete before the seminar;
    • The videos students must watch before the seminar;
    • ‘Assumed knowledge’ that students will be expected to bring to the seminar based on the videos, readings and lectures;
    • Discussion questions, activities and problems that will be answered in the seminar.

    The seminar material will build upon the preparatory work undertaken by students in conjunction with the lectures, videos and readings. The seminars will provide an opportunity for students to test their understanding of the concepts, to engage in analysis and evaluation of the concepts, and to apply their knowledge to new situations and to extend their knowledge further.

    Students should bring the Course Guide and their textbook (Blackshield and Williams) to seminars.


    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    The University expects full-time students (ie those taking 12 units per semester) to devote a total of 48 hours per week to their studies. This means we expect students enrolled in Australian Constitutional Law to spend 12 hours per week studying this course.

    Students in this course are expected to attend seminars. In addition, students should allocate time to private study in the course across the 12 week semester and the period before the exam – this includes reading the material, watching the videos, attending/watching lectures, preparing for seminars and undertaking the assessment tasks.
    Learning Activities Summary

    The course will cover the topics set out below. The details of the week-by-week arrangements are subject to change. Changes will be announced on MyUni.

    Week Lecture Seminar
    Week 1 Interpretation and characterisation Seminar 1: Interpretation and characterisation

    Week 2 Corporations power
    Week 3 External affairs Seminar 2: Corporations power
    Week 4 Immigration and Aliens powers
    Week 5 State and Commonwealth financial relations part 1 Seminar 3: Immigration, Aliens  and External Affairs
    Week 6 State and Commonwealth financial relations part 2
    Mid-Semester Break
    Week 7 Section 92 Seminar 4: State and Commonwealth financial relations

    Week 8 Federalism and inconsistent laws
    Week 9 Implied Freedom of Political Communication Seminar 5: Section 109 and s 92
    Week 10 Implied Freedom of Political Communication
    Week 11 Assignment feedback/Revision Seminar 6: Implied freedom of political communication
    Week 12 Revision
    Exam period



    Specific Course Requirements
    There are no additional requirements except those specified in this profile.
    Small Group Discovery Experience
    This course does not include a small group discovery experience.
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary

    Assessment item

    % of final mark




    Learning Objectives

    Class participation 10 Weeks 3-12 N/A N 2, 3, 4, 5
    Class presentation 10 Weeks 3-12 20 minutes N 1,2,3,4,5
    Interim assignment (optional) 30 Second Monday of mid-semester break 2000 words Y 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    Exam 50-80 Exam period 2 and a half hours N 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    Assessment Related Requirements
    Class participation counts for 10% of the overall marks for the course.

    Each student will have the opportunity to attend six seminars over the course of the semester. Students will be assessed for the participation in all but the first seminar, and their performance in their best four seminars will used for their participation mark. Students will only be marked for participating in the seminar in which they are enrolled. Students will not be allowed to attend alternative seminars except in exceptional circumstances with the prior approval of the course co-ordinator. If a student will have difficulty regularly attending the seminar in which they are enrolled, they should change their enrolment or contact the course co-ordinator as soon as possible.  
    Assessment Detail

    1. Interim Assignment 30%

    Optional and redeemable

    Release Date: Monday, Week 5 (via MyUni)

    Due Date: 2pm, Monday, second week of the mid-semester break

    Assignments submitted late will incur a penalty of 5% for every day, or part thereof, that the assignment is late.

    Length: The assignment is to be a maximum of 2000 words, excluding footnotes. Footnotes are to contain references only and substantive material in footnotes will not be read. There will be a penalty of 5% for every 100 words, or part thereof, over the word limit.

    Description: The interim assignment will consist of a problem question and short answer question, similar to the questions to be set in the take-home exam. The assignment will assess the material covered in the first three weeks of lectures.

    Marking Criteria: The assignment will be assessed against the following criteria:
    · Ability to identify relevant legal issues and case law;
    · Capacity to logically apply the law in a reasoned and considered manner;
    · Critical analysis of the law and concepts;
    · Written communication skills;
    · Proper and accurate citation of sources; compliance with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

    2. Class Participation 10%

    Compulsory and non-redeemable

    Students will be assessed on their participation in seminars. This means they must prepare for class by completing the readings and attempting the seminar questions, contribute in small and large group discussions and listen attentively. Seminar leaders are responsible for monitoring and assessing attendance and participation.

    In order to receive credit for their participation, students must attend the seminar in which they are enrolled.

    The participation grade will be based on the student's best four seminar performances as assessed by the seminar leader.

    Marking Criteria: Class participation will be assessed against the following criteria:
    · Preparation
    · Quality of Contributions
    · Listening and engagement with others

    More detailed rules and expectations for class participation will be released on MyUni and explained in the first week of seminars.

    3. Class Presentation 10%

    Compulsory and non-redeemable

    Students will be allocated to groups of 5 or 6 in the first seminar. Students will be required to prepare a 20 minute group presentation on a set topic in seminars 2 to 6.

    4. Exam 50-80% (depending on whether assignment mark is redeemed)

    The exam will consist of a problem question and short answer questions, similar in style to those in the Interim Assignment.

    The exam will be assessed on the following criteria:
    · Demonstrated understanding of constitutional law and theory;
    · Ability to identify relevant legal issues and case law;
    · Capacity to logically apply the law in a reasoned and considered manner;
    · Critical analysis of the case law;
    . Written communication skills.

    Optional Interim Assignment

    The assignment is to be submitted in electronic form only. Detailed instructions on how to submit assignments will be provided in the assignment information. 

    The assignment is to be presented in typed form using Times New Roman 12-point font and using double line spacing.  The margins of the paper (right, left, top and bottom) must be no less than 2.5cm. The paper is not to include appendices or a bibliography.

    Citation must comply with The Australian Guide to Legal Citation (3rd ed) available at:

    The assignment must be written in prose style (using complete sentences), adhere to grammatical rules, and use correct spelling. 

    Late submission
    5% of the total mark possible will be deducted for every 24 hours or part thereof that it is late, including each day on a weekend. For example, an essay that is submitted after the due date and time but  within the first 24 hour period, and that has been graded at 63%, will have 5% deducted, for a final grade of 58%. An essay that is more than 24 hours late will lose 10%, etc.

    Word Length
    Assignments which exceed the allocated length (word length or page limit) will be subject to a penalty of 5% of total marks possible per 100 words or part thereof (ie with a word limit of 2,000, an essay graded 63% will have 5% deducted if it is 2001 words long, for a final grade of 58%, 10% if it is 2101 words long, etc). Words are calculated including all footnotes and headings within the text but excluding cover page information. Quotations and all referencing information are included in the word count.

    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Courses for which a result of conceded pass has been obtained may not be presented towards the degree requirements for the Bachelor of Laws or the Honours Degree of Bachelor of Laws programs, or any postgraduate law program, nor to satisfy prerequisite requirements within any law course.

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from:

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level (see: )

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide (

    Supplementary exams: For information regarding supplementary exams please consult the Law School policy page below.

    Approval of Results by Board of Examiners
    Students are reminded that all assessment results are subject to approval (and possible  moderation/change) by the Law School’s Board of Examiners. Assessment  results at the University are not scaled. Under the Assessment for Coursework Programs Policy, students are assessed ‘by reference to their performance against pre-determined criteria and standards … and not by ranking against the performance of the student cohort in the course’. However, under that same policy, the Board of Examiners (as the relevant Assessment Review Committee for courses at Adelaide Law School) is  required to ‘ensure comparability of standards and consistency’ in assessment. On occasions, the Board of Examiners will form the view that some moderation is required to ensure the comparability of standards and consistency across courses and years, and accordingly provide fairness to all law students. All assessment results are therefore subject to approval (and possible change) until confirmed by the Board of Examiners and posted on Acess Adelaide at the end of each semester.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
    The University Writing Centre provides academic learning and language development services and resources for local, international, undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students enrolled at the University of Adelaide.

    The centre offers practical advice and strategies for students to master reading, writing, note-taking, time management, oral presentation skills, referencing techniques and exam preparation for success at university through seminars, workshops and individual consultations.

    For more information please check out the Writing Centre website at  

    Lex Salus Program

    Lex Salus was founded in 2013 by Adelaide Law School Wellbeing officers Ms Corinne Walding, Ms Kellie Toole and Dr Mark Giancaspro. Lex Salus is an initiative of the Adelaide Law School aimed at raising law student awareness of the importance of mental, physical and nutritional health across all year levels of the degree, and of the various counselling, disability and equity services both within and outside the University that can provide help. Research shows that law students, both in Australia and in many jurisdictions around the world, experience the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression out of any other discipline. Many do not get enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet or achieve a realistic work/life balance. Making matters worse, they are unwilling or afraid to speak up for fear of feeling 'weak' or because of the negative stigma that attaches to seeking help. Lex Salus is dedicated to tackling these problems head-on.

    Counselling Service

    The University Counselling Service provides a free and confidential service to all enrolled students. We encourage you to contact the Counselling service on 8313 5663 to make an appointment to deal with any issues that may be affecting your study and life. More information is available at
  • Policies & Guidelines

    This section contains links to relevant assessment-related policies and guidelines - all university policies.

    Further information regarding the Law School Policies and Procedures in relation to Supplementary Assessment, Extensions, and Remarks etc can be found at:

    Plagiarism and other forms of cheating
    Plagiarism is a serious act of academic misconduct. All students must be familiar with the Adelaide Law School Enrolment Guide and should note in particular the sections relating to plagiarism, grievance procedures and academic conduct within the Law School and the University.
    Plagiarism is a serious matter and is treated as such by the Law School and the University. Please be aware that “academic dishonesty” (which goes beyond plagiarism) can be a ground for a refusal by the Supreme Court of South Australia to refuse to admit a person to practice as a legal practitioner in South Australia.
    Academic honesty is an essential aspect of ethical and honest behaviour, which is central to the practice of the law and an understanding of what it is to be a lawyer.
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

The University of Adelaide is committed to regular reviews of the courses and programs it offers to students. The University of Adelaide therefore reserves the right to discontinue or vary programs and courses without notice. Please read the important information contained in the disclaimer.