by Colum Graham
gained power without amendment to the constitution
The words of the constitution have changed very little since federation, nineteen hundred and one. Out of forty-two attempts to change the constitution (by referendum) have occurred and only eight have succeeded. Only three of those eight have had any real significance to the balance of power between state and federal government. However within the great steadiness within the Constitution it hides enormous changes at social, economic and even political levels. There have been great moves in federal balance and the states power is constantly changing.
Australia entered the Second World War with a large array of taxes collected at the same time by the federal and state governments. Tax was in-fact the highest source of revenue for the governments. The federal Labor government at the time asked the states to abandon direct income taxes for the length of the war in return the states would get reimbursement grants so that the federal government could place a uniform tax throughout Australia. The federal government argued with the states that all Australians should contribute equally (according to how much they earn.) The premiers wouldn t comply and in nineteen forty one, the Commonwealth of Australia passed four acts that would impose the uniform tax upon the states. The first act imposed a high income and company tax. The second prioritized the collection of Commonwealth taxes. The third act was to reimburse the states for the income tax they had lost. And the fourth act authorized the federal government to take control of the tax collection on the basis of defense.
Through the nineteen fifty s and the nineteen sixty s the federal government made regular use of specific grants to the states. However these grants were not like the ones they (the states!) received from the federal government for the war, which were untied. The states received these special purpose grants (payments, really ) as a share of the income tax. Through these grants the federal government was able to influence state decisions about areas of state responsibility. The grants were allocated to many areas, such as: land settlement, roads, education, hospitals, railways, water and electricity etc. Even though sometimes conditions of these payments left the states with a fair amount of flexibility the federal government still was the deciding factor on how and what the states would spend their money on. By nineteen seventy-one thirty percent of these special grants made up nearly eighteen percent of the states entire budget.
In nineteen seventy-two Gough Whitlam was elected Prime Minister of Australia. His government took control of the nation with a new federalism policy, which called for the use of Federal financial powers to implement agendas in areas of state responsibility. Whitlam argued that certain problems of Australian society could only be addressed and solved at a national level (with federal finance of coarse!) The Whitlam government called for a huge expansion of grants to the states, particularly involving education, health and legal aid. These areas were under state jurisdiction and responsibility. The Whitlam government insinuated that the federal government was to have more to say with the expenditure and the states would have even less room to maneuver financially, appropriate reductions in the general purpose funds allocated to the states From nineteen seventy two to nineteen seventy five, grants rose from thirty percent to forty nine percent and from eighteen percent of state budgets to thirty three percent.
When Whitlam was removed from office in nineteen seventy-five, Malcolm Fraser took over as Prime Minister of Australia. He said that he would share the tax arrangements with the states. However this never happened and the states situations didn t improve financially. When Bob Hawke was installed as Prime Minister in nineteen eighty-three states financial independency didn t get any better. Paul Keating however made some concessions but he had ulterior motives because they were to only make Australia more internationally competitive. However intense negotiations with the Keating government in nineteen ninety-four eventuated with the states receiving additional payments from the federal government. Currently under the Howard r+ gime the financial position of the states seems likely to not improve. The coalition came to power stating that they would breathe new life into fiscal federalism.
The High Court of Australia is at the top of the Australian Legal system. It is the final court of appeal for all Australian courts. It is important politically though because it interprets the Australian Constitution and has the final say on laws passed by States or Territory parliaments. Therefore it also determines the common laws of Australia. With the power that the High Court wields it seems as though the State and Territory governments powers have been slightly diminished. Therefore with all this power that the High Court possesses it can influence the political issues that concern Australia without modifying the Australian Constitution. Thus the decisions the High Court makes have impacts on national, state, and locally based issues. The only way that the High Courts decisions can be modified is if the Australian Constitution is altered. This is not a regular occurrence.
In nineteen ninety-two the High Court of Australia was accused of being too radical and activist by Minister Bob Brown. He thought that the recent actions of the High Court were extreme so he proposed that a referendum take place to limit the powers of the High Court, also they were to overturn some decisions.
Lots of people supported his ideas because they were angered at some of the decisions the High Court made. One involved the analysis of common law. The other two involved application of the Constitution. The first decision was the Mabo case. This led on to the Racial Discrimination Act come under scrutiny numerous times. Queensland tried to legislatively destroy the Mabo claim and Western Australia outright avoided the issue. The next act of litigation that caused uproar was that which concerned Section forty-four of the Australian Constitution. This section describes a number of provisions that prohibit somebody being elected to the commonwealth government. The court ruled that certain members of parliament could not be members any longer because they held dual citizenship. The court thought that neither of the candidates had shown that they shown any allegiance to the other country (Greece & Switzerland.) The third debatable decision was to strike down the Australian Capital Television Case. This law barred political advertising on television and radio. (The High Court was later under fire with regards to this case for not sticking exactly to the constitution.)
The federal government has, in various ways gained power without amendment to the Australian Constitution. From the Second World War, the federal government has taken power away from the states and has therefore gained power by doing so without changing the Constitution. The High Court of Australia is able to make decisions federally based, without changing the Constitution. Whether it is good for the federal government to have a controlling power over the states in debatable but it has. Whether it is good for our society for the High Court to have so much power is arguable, but it has. This is how Australia runs and it is good to be apart of it.