PRINCIPLE 4: FEDERALISM
Federalism divides political power between the different parts of the Federation. In Australia, we have the ‘Federal’ or ‘Commonwealth’ Government, and the Governments of the States and Territories. Federalism is about sharing power between the different entities which limits their powers. By dividing power like this, federalism strengthens representative democracy, can protect liberty, and can promote local decision making on issues of local importance.
What is federalism?
In Australia, we have a Federal Commonwealth Government, and the Governments of the States and Territories. Federalism is about sharing power between the different entities. By dividing power like this, federalism strengthens parliamentary representative democracy and promotes local decision making.
Federalism limits government power
The Federal Government can only use powers found in the Constitution to make laws. Anything else is a State power. If both the Federal Government and a State make inconsistent laws, the Federal law prevails. However, they can both enact complementary laws on the same subject.
Has Federal Government power grown since federation?
Through interpretation of the Constitution Federal Government power has expanded. The section 51 ‘external affairs’ power allows the Federal Government to make laws on a range of subjects including industrial relations, the environment and racial discrimination. They also have greater power to raise and share revenue.
Justice Gavan Duffy, Case: Amalgamated Society of Engineers v Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd (Engineers case) (1920)
How does the Constitution protect States’ power?
The Federal Government cannot place special burdens on States that affects their ability to function as Governments. The Federal Government cannot destroy or cut back the States’ continued existence.
How are disputes resolved between the parts of our Federalism?
Disputes do occur between the Federal Government and State Governments, between different State Governments, and between citizens and their Governments. Most problems are solved through the political process. The High Court often resolves these questions if they raise constitutional issues.
Click here to download a PDF of Principle 4: Federalism in detail
Click here to read the Federalism High Court Case Engineers Union succeeds in the High Court, expanding Federal power