Book Report of the Week

by Elias Blum


This week’s reading has an antipodean theme. I ordered these two books as a complementary pair. Although there is some difference of emphasis they each: (i) provide a descriptive account of the existing constitutional system in the country; (ii) engage in a critical analysis of its strengths and shortcomings; (iii) discuss options for reform, and (iv) culminate in a proposed new constitutional text. In other words, right up my street.

The book on New Zealand (Palmer, G. & Palmer, M. Unbridled Power (4th ed), Oxford University Press, 2004) is probably, by a slight margin, the better written of the two. It has a deeper descriptive study of how the existing institutions and processes work. However, its proposals for constitutional reform are rather conservative, very parochial, and a bit thin. Sadly, there’s almost no engagement with wider Commonwealth constitutional developments, and that means that many beneficial reforms that are tried and tested elsewhere are dismissed out of hand.

The book on Australia (Harris, B. A New Constitution for Australia, Routledge, 2002) is less detailed on the workings of the existing constitutional system. but much more radical and innovative in its proposals for reform. In part, this is because it discusses the broader sweep of modern Commonwealth constitutionalism and isn’t afraid to seek solutions to Australian constitutional problems by borrowing and adapting from elsewhere.

I’d give the Australia book 7/10 and the New Zealand book 8/10, but the former I would recommend to a much wider readership – it’s useful to anyone who is interested in constitutional reform in a comparative way, even if they are not very interested in the specifics of the Australian case, whilst the latter I would really only recommend to people who want to learn more about the intricate details of New Zealand.