Foundations of Constitutional Government Course




By Professor Augusto Zimmermann

A unique opportunity to learn about the foundations of Australia’s constitutional government from a leading jurist and academic in Australia.

This course is especially designed for those with an interest in the use and potential abuse of governmental power.

Some of the measures adopted by governments to fight COVID-19 have had significant repercussions on the Rule of Law and fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement, expression, privacy and association.  

This course is particularly relevant in face of the coronavirus crisis and its dramatic impact on fundamental rights and freedoms. This is your opportunity to learn about the foundations of constitutional government from one of the nation’s leading proponents of free speech and the Rule of Law.   

Organised and coordinated by Professor Augusto Zimmermann, a former Law Reform Commissioner in Western Australia, this course provides a general understanding of the basic foundations of Australian law and government, including our system of government and the progression of Australia from a British colony through to federation and the coming into force of the Commonwealth Constitution, on 1st January 1901.

You will be able to examine the central constitutional concepts of federalism, constitutionalism, the Rule of Law, constitutional interpretation, and representative and responsible government.

There are three main types of powers set out in the Commonwealth Constitution.  These are: Legislative power (exercised by the Parliament, comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate); Executive power (which includes the Governor General and the Federal Government); and Judicial power (exercised by the Courts). We will look at these institutions and their powers, together with a doctrine called ‘the separation of powers doctrine’ which provides that these institutions (and powers) should be kept separate. 

Our main focus is on Federal Constitutional Law and the provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution, however we will provide an introduction to State Constitutions and what the Commonwealth Constitution says about resolving conflicts between Federal and State laws (section 109).

Although Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, there are some express freedoms in the Constitution. These include freedom of interstate trade (section 92), freedom of Religion (section 116); and the acquisition of property on just terms (section 51(xxxi)). In addition, the High Court has implied a freedom of political communication into both the Commonwealth and State Constitutions, which, at the time, was rather controversial. More recently, the High Court has extended this by finding an implied right to vote.  We will discuss these rights and freedoms, and will also look at the process for amending the Commonwealth Constitution.

So as you can see constitutional law is very much about “power”, in particular the legal sources and limits of government power.  Where does the power to govern come from? Which institutions of government can exercise certain powers? Does the Commonwealth Government have the power to enact certain laws, or should certain matters be left to the States to legislate?  What other limitations or restrictions does the Constitution place on the legislative power of the Commonwealth?

Reasons to enrol in this course

This course is particularly relevant for those who wish to work in the public sector or those who wish to be actively engaged in politics and public policy, or indeed to any with an interest in the use and potential abuse of governmental power.

The benefits of completing this program includes the ability to analyse constitutional principles and practices, by focusing on topics such as separation of powers, constitutional government, constitutional rights and freedoms, constitutional interpretation, and the Rule of Law.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Identify key constitutional principles including constitutionalism, the rule of law, representative and responsible government, and the separation of powers doctrine;
  • Analyse the role of the High Court in constitutional interpretation including the differing methods of interpretation used by the High Court (literalism, legalism, originalism, the ‘living constitution’, judicial activism, and judicial restraint);
  • Explain how the Australian Constitution provides for a federal system of government, and the role of the High Court in shaping Commonwealth-State powers;
  • Describe the composition and role of the Federal Executive including the Commonwealth Government and the Governor-General;
  • Discuss legislative powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, including a detailed overview of the defence power, corporations power, external affairs power, and the trade and commerce power;
  • Evaluate the operation of constitutional ‘freedoms’ such as freedom of interstate trade, freedom of religion, the acquisition of property on just terms requirement, the implied freedom of political communication, and the implied right to vote.

Course coordinator

Your lecturer and coordinator for Principles of Constitutional Government is Professor Augusto Zimmermann.

Professor Zimmermann is an internationally accomplished legal scholar, a prolific writer and author of numerous academic articles and books. He is considered by international think tanks such as Washington-based Heritage Foundation as one of the leading jurists and policy makers in Australia.

Professor Zimmermann worked as a Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, from 2012 to 2017. He is the Founder and President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Western Australian Jurist law journal, an Elected Fellow at the International Academy for the Study of the Jurisprudence of the Family, and a former Vice-President of the Australasian Society of Legal Philosophy.

Professor Zimmermann was awarded the 2012 Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research at Murdoch University. He has received numerous nominations to the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching and Learning Award at Murdoch University, and was awarded the 2013 Law Lecturer of the Year Award from the Murdoch Student Law Society (MSLS).

Professor Zimmermann is the only speaker to ever receive a standing ovation at a conference held by the Samuel Griffith Society, a learned society of constitutional lawyers founded by former Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs and named after our First Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Samuel Griffith.

In January 2015, Professor Zimmermann was invited by the Tasmanian Chief Justice Alan Blow to deliver an address opening the Legal Year in Tasmania. The service was followed by a reception at the Supreme Court where he was received as the Guest of Honour by the President of the Tasmanian Bar.

Finally, he is broadly recognised as a worldwide leading expert on the legal concept known as the Rule of Law, receiving a number of invitations to contribute articles on the topic, including a Chapter for a seminal book edited by the President of the American Bar Association (ABA), in 2014, containing contributions of the world’s leading academics in the field, including Professor Zimmermann himself.

About Sheridan Institute of Higher Education

Sheridan Institute of Higher Education is a nationally accredited Christian Higher Education Institution, offering Diploma, Bachelor and/or Master degree level courses in Arts & Humanities, Business, Education and Science & Mathematics.

Sheridan operates on a Trimester model with three 12-week blocks of teaching per year (Trimester 1: January to April, Trimester 2: May to August; Trimester 3: September to December).

Instruction takes place in small classes in a supportive environment that fosters intellectual inquiry, equips for professional practice and encourages servant leadership. Classes takes place at the Sheridan campus in the city (18 Aberdeen Street), close to Central Perth and McIver Stations, with parking available.


Sheridan prides itself in making high quality Higher Education accessible to everyone. As a result, fees are affordable and payment plans are available. The cost of enrolling in a 12-weeek unit at Sheridan is only $790 per unit for 12 weeks of teaching, including all textbooks. It is also possible to audit a unit for $500.


You will be assessed on the basis of a research essay and a final examination. Students must complete and submit both the research essay AND sit the final examination in order to pass the course. This is because all the course learning outcomes will not be properly met without all assessment tasks being completed.

Further Information

‘Foundations of Constitutional Government’ is a unit offered to students in our Bachelor of Arts degree. You can enrol only in this unit, or apply to become eligible to undertake the entire B.A. program offered by Sheridan.

For further information about the course, please contact Professor Zimmermann at

For further information on entry criteria, fees, and application processes, please consult the Sheridan Institute website ( or contact Sheridan Institute at