Parlaimentary Powers

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's June 2001

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The State and Commonwealth powers in Australia are divided so that laws affecting the State are handled by the State and laws affecting the whole country are handled by the Commonwealth Parliament. The rules that govern the division of these powers are spelt out in Australia's Constitution. Over the one hundred years since the Constitution was put in place, the relative balance of power has swung heavily towards the central, Commonwealth Parliament. The High Court, the highest court of appeal in Australia, resides over arguments between State and Commonwealth Parliaments and has played a major role in this swing of power. In events and issues affecting both Parliaments, the High Court has tended to hand more powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. These events and issues include laws involving finance and more recently, the External Affairs Power. The High Court has gradually been centralising more and more finance powers particularly those to do with taxes.

The High Court has also caused conflict and tension between the two levels of power by giving the Commonwealth Parliament the ability to pass laws that would otherwise be considered residual powers of the state through its decisions involving External Affairs.

Between 1881 and 1900 the six colonies in Australia met to discuss forming a federation of Australian colonies. The colonies wanted to create a central authority to legislate for the national issues. Each colony also wanted to retain the power to govern in its own territory. A federal system of government had to be designed which would balance these interests. This is why the Australian Constitution, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), was passed by the British Parliament and came into force in Australia on 1 January 1901. This document sets out the operation and the structure of the Commonwealth Parliament, its...