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«Upholding the Australian Constitution Volume Seventeen Proceedings of the Seventeenth Conference of The Samuel Griffith Society Greenmount Beach Resort, ...»

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Examining whether Parliament has the power to legislate is a matter which is apparently ignored by the Auditor-General. No mention of this issue was made in the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into reform of the Audit Office, or in the Auditor-General’s response. 47 I t is s u b m i t t e d t h a t t h e A u d i t o r - G e n e r a l, in reporting to P a r l i a m e n t, i s required to be satisfied that the Consolidated Revenue Fund is appropriated for purposes a u t h o r i s e d by the C o n s t i t u t i o n. In short, the Auditor-General is a w a t c h dog to warn P a r l i a m e n t when either i t or the Executive exceeds t h e constitutional power to spend money. W h a t w o u l d b e u s e f u l i s f o r t h e a u t h o r i t y upon which reliance is placed to be disclosed. If s. 81 is t h e c l a i m e d source of t h e a u t h o r i t y, t h e n i t should be recorded in t h e e x p l a n a t o r y m e m o r a n d u m t o the Bill, preferably w i t h reasons to support such a contention. The second reading speeches and explanatory memoranda are silent on this aspect.

Overruling the law on the grants power By way of i l l u s t r a t i o n, for 2005 the Commonwealth h a s a p p r o p r i a t e d $1.5 billion 48 to the States for local government under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995 (LGFA Act). Through the Investing in Our Schools Program the Commonwealth is spending $1 billion in s m a l l c a p i t a l projects of up t o $150,000 for 2005-08, in schools for library resources, computer f a c i l i t i e s, a i r conditioning of class rooms, etc., under the Schools Assistance (Learning Together–Achievement Through Choice and O p p o r t u n i t y ) Act 2004. The paragraphs of s. 51 of the Constitution have nothing to say on these topics.

The power to undertake these expenditures comes from the conditions

attached to the grants to the States. Relevantly s. 96 provides:

“S. 96 During a period of ten years a f t e r the e s t a b l i s h m e n t of t h e Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit”.

A good illustration of how s. 96 works is given by s. 3(2) and (3) of the LGFA

Act, which relevantly provides:

“ ( 2 ) The P a r l i a m e n t wishes to provide f i n a n c i a l a s s i s t a n c e t o t h e S t a t e s

for the purposes of improving:

a) the financial capacity of local governing bodies; …..

“ ( 3 ) The financial assistance is to be provided by making to the States, for local government purposes, of general g r a n t s under section 9 a n d additional funding under section 12”.

Here the Commonwealth has the capacity to invade any field of activity it

likes. University education is a first class example. As Sir Robert Menzies said:

“ T h e p r a c t i c a l effect of a l l t h i s, o f course, h a s been t h a t in the revenue field, the Commonwealth h a s e s t a b l i s h e d a n overlordship. ………[T]his was a major revolution w i t h o u t a n y f o r m a l c o n s t i t u t i o n a l a m e n d m e n t a t a l l ”. 49 (Emphasis added).

This development was not foreseen by t h e d r a f t e r s o f t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n. I t was apparently assumed t h a t the t e r m s and conditions would be s t r i c t l y relevant to the circumstances which called for financial assistance, which were expected to be rare. 50 The key as to why the High Court should depart from its s. 96 precedent is to be found in the dissent of Starke J in declaring the S t a t e G r a n t s ( I n c o m e T a x

Reimbursement) Act 1942 to be invalid:

“The government of Australia is a dual system based upon a separation of organs and powers. The maintenance of the States and t h e i r p o w e r s i s a s much an object of the C o n s t i t u t i o n a s the maintenance of t h e Commonwealth and its powers. Therefore it is beyond the power of e i t h e r to abolish or destroy the other. The l i m i t e d g r a n t of powers to t h e Commonwealth cannot be exercised for ends inconsistent with the separate existence and the self-government of t h e S t a t e s, n o r f o r e n d s inconsistent w i t h i t s l i m i t e d g r a n t s ”. 51 What needs to be answered is whether the High Court would now overrule the precedent involved. Some of the f a c t o r s which could w a r r a n t such a d e p a r t u r e were conveniently collected in John v. Commissioner of T a x a t i o n. 52 However, there is no definite rule in which the Court will reconsider a n e a r l i e r decision.

The first case on s. 96 was Victoria v. Commonwealth 53 i n w h i c h t h e C o u r t, in a laconic three lines, upheld the validity of the Federal Aid R o a d s Act 1926.

Next came Deputy Federal Commissioner of Taxation (NSW) v. Moran, 54 of which Dixon C J in the Second Uniform Tax Case 55 e x p r e s s e d h i s d i s s a t i s f a c t i o n a b o u t its correctness when money is placed in the hands of a State with a direction to pay it over to a class of persons.

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Conclusion If the use of s. 96 by the Commonwealth and its tame acceptance by the States b r o u g h t a b o u t a c o n s t i t u t i o n a l r e v o l u t i o n, ( w i t h o u t a n y f o r m a l a m e n d m e n t of the C o n s t i t u t i o n ), then the abuse of the a p p r o p r i a t i o n power to bypass t h e States has effectively destroyed the federal union. 61 The t o r p i d i t y of the S t a t e s in failing to effectively repel t h e Commonwealth’s invasion of their fields of activities, invites consideration as to whether there is now some undisclosed r e a s o n f o r t h i s occurrence. On its face, such an invasion is against their interests. Or is it? The political ideology of the present six State and two Territory Labor governments is for a unitary system of government, despite some occasional feigned protestations t h a t t h e y subscribe to the masquerade of so called co-operative federalism. 62 The Commonwealth, by e n t h u s i a s t i c a l l y d o i n g w h a t t h e S t a t e s s h o u l d b e doing, is being drawn into a financial vortex.

Unwittingly, the drafters of the Constitution do not seem to have provided a g a i n s t t h e S t a t e s a n d t h e C o m m o n w e a l t h a c t i n g i n a w a y which h a s b r o u g h t about change from a federal union to a d e f a c t o u n i t a r y s y s t e m. I t i s t r i t e l a w t h a t the C o n s t i t u t i o n does not provide for a n a t i o n a l government w i t h unlimited power; it provides for a federal government with specific enumerated powers. A perusal of the Acts listed in the Schedule to the A d m i n i s t r a t i v e Arrangements Order 63 signed by the Governor-General on 26 October, 2004, t o g e t h e r w i t h A p p r o p r i a t i o n A c t s, s h o w s t h a t s o m e o f t h e m a r e l i k e l y t o have exceeded the power of the Parliament to enact.

If A u s t r a l i a n s desire to r a t i f y t h i s s t a t e of a f f a i r s, then a f o r m a l amendment of the Constitution needs to be made by a referendum. Such a move would bring on a debate for review of the federal system, including a reassignment of powers between the States and the Commonwealth.

Under the Constitution, the Parliament does not have plenary power; unlike t h e U n i t e d K i n g d o m P a r l i a m e n t, i t c a n n o t d o w h a t i t l i k e s. 64 W h a t i s a l a r m i n g, is t h a t the citizen is denied access to the High Court to challenge a p p r o p r i a t i o n s w h i c h are beyond power. In short, t h e H i g h C o u r t needs to be afforded the opportunity of reconsidering the issues of standing a n d justiciability.

Annexure A Extract from Minutes of Evidence by Owen Dixon, KC, on 13 December, 1927 for the C o m m i t t e e of Counsel (Owen Dixon, KC, Wilbur H a m, KC and Robert Menzies) of the V i c t o r i a n B a r Council to the Royal Commission on t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n, 65 at p.780.

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7 December, 1941 Pearl Harbour attacked and war declared against Japan.

15 February, 1942 Fall of Singapore.

19 February, 1942 Darwin attacked.

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2 September, 1945 Execution of surrender document by Japan.


1. Lord Macaulay, History of England, in The Life and Works of Lord Macaulay (Longmans Green and Co, 1912), Vol I, p. 26.

2. L a t h a m C J in The Lord Mayor, Councillors and Citizens of t h e City of Melbourne v. Commonwealth (1947) 74 CLR 31 at 47.

3. S i r E a r l e P a g e, Truant Surgeon, Ann Mozley (ed.) (Angus and Robertson, 1963), p.126.

4. Lord Acton, Letter to Mandell Creighton, 5 April, 1887, in Essays on Freedom and Power, G e r t r u d e H i m m e l f a r b (ed.) (World Publishing, 1948), pp. 335Gleeson C J in Austin v. Commonwealth (2003) 215 CLR 185 at 211, [17].

6. Ibid., at 277, [211].

7. A u s t r a l i a n Law Reform Commission, Report No. 27, Standing in Public I n t e r e s t L i t i g a t i o n (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985), para.


8. Attorney-General for Victoria v. Commonwealth (1945) 71 CLR 237.

9. Later paragraph (xxiiiA) of s. 51, inserted by the Constitutional Alteration (Social Services) referendum of 1946, a u t h o r i z e d the payment of pharmaceutical benefits.

10. (1945) 71 CLR 237 at 269.

11. Ibid., per Starke J at 265-6.

12. Victoria v. Commonwealth (1975) 134 CLR 338.

13. Ibid., at 361-2.

14. Ibid., at 374.

15. Ibid., at 405.

16. Ibid., at 410.

17. Gertrude Gerard [Professor Tony Blackshield], A Reply t o The AAP Case (1977-78) 2 UNSWLJ 105 at p.115.

18. Victoria v. Commonwealth (1975) 134 CLR 338 at 410.

19. Ibid., at 419.

20. E G Whitlam, The Labor Government and the Constitution, in Gareth Evans (ed.), Labor and the Constitution 1972-1975 (Heinemann, 1977), p. 308.

21. R o a d s t o Recovery Programme, Annual R e p o r t 2002-2003 a t p.15 and a t p.11; www.dotars.gov.au/transprog/downloads /Road_R2R_AnnualReportpdf, viewed 19/2/2005.

22. S i r Robert Garran, P r o s p e r t h e Commonwealth, (Angus and Robertson, 1958), p. 208.

23. www.budget.gov.au/2004-05/ministerial/download/trans port.pdf, at p.15, viewed 19/02/2005.

24. Table 2.7: Administered p r o g r a m m e s t h a t contribute to Outcome 2 (operating expenses), Department of Transport and Regional Services 2005 Budget S t a t e m e n t s, Budget Related Paper No. 1.15 at p.66;

www.dotars.gov.au /dept/budget/0405/dotars_pbs0405.pdf, viewed 27/02/05.

25. Appropriation Act (No 1) (2004-2005) a t p. 1 3 5.

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Purpose This paper focuses on the alleged conflict between recently introduced Australian domestic legislation and i n t e r n a t i o n a l legal principles. Recent A u s t r a l i a n d o m e s t i c l e g i s l a t i o n h a s e x c l u d e d c e r t a i n m a r i t i m e zones surrounding i s l a n d s from the Australian “Migration Zone” under the M i g r a t i o n A c t 1958. This paper a t t e m p t s to evaluate these legislative changes in t h e c o n t e x t of i n t e r n a t i o n a l law obligations, in particular the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of t h e Sea ( UNCLOS I I I ). The finite question t h a t t h i s research investigates i s whether a “bar” or refoule on so-called “asylum seekers” being able to apply for visas under the M i g r a t i o n Act breaches A u s t r a l i a n i n t e r n a t i o n a l l a w obligations.

Legislative amendments Over the l a s t few years, numerous amendments have been made t o Commonwealth legislation regarding m i g r a t i o n, fisheries and Customs. In March and April, 1999 a number of boats carrying persons without immigration c l e a r a n c e a t t e m p t e d t o r e a c h A u s t r a l i a, u n d e t e c t e d, b y l a n d i n g o n t h e c o a s t of t h e m a i n l a n d a n d u p o n t e r r i t o r i a l i s l a n d s t o the North-West. In response, the Commonwealth established a “ C o a s t a l Surveillance Task Force”. This newly created body recommended comprehensive amendments to the off-shore enforcement of Commonwealth laws. Significantly, new legislation, the Border P r o t e c t i o n L e g i s l a t i o n A m e n d m e n t Act 1999, was introduced. T h a t legislation incorporated amendments to the C u s t o m s A c t 1901, the M i g r a t i o n A c t 1958 and the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

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not extend to t h e t e r r i t o r i e s o f Norfolk Island, Heard and Macdonald Islands and the A u s t r a l i a n A n t a r c t i c Territory. Places included in t h i s definition continue to be p a r t of A u s t r a l i a, and A u s t r a l i a n citizens (and lawful noncitizens) can move to and from those areas as they move between any p a r t s of Australia.

Therefore, the “migration zone” includes the land area of all the States and Territories of Australia and the waters of proclaimed ports within those States and Territories. The provisions of the M i g r a t i o n Act continue to apply w i t h i n those “excised offshore places”. The purpose of the migration zone is to define t h e a r e a o f A u s t r a l i a w h e r e a n o n - c i t i z e n m u s t h o l d a v i s a in order to legally enter and remain in Australia. 7 The question then is whether these legislative amendments are a v a l i d exercise of coastal state jurisdiction in accordance with international law.

International law I n t e r n a t i o n a l law can be defined a s “the body of law which p a r t i c i p a t i n g nations recognise a s binding t h e m in t h e i r conduct t o w a r d s each o t h e r ”.

Notably, i n t e r n a t i o n a l law does not generally deal w i t h the actions of individuals. The S t a t u t e o f t h e I n t e r n a t i o n a l C o u r t o f J u s t i c e establishes a court to determine legal disputes between states. Article 38 of that Statute identifies p r i m a r y s o u r c e s o f i n t e r n a t i o n a l l a w. 8 These primary sources can be s e p a r a t e d

into three sub-groups:

1. International agreements to which the disputing states are a party;

2. Customary international law; and General principles of law recognised by nations, 9 often referred to as opinio 3.

juris. Normally this involves consideration of the domestic laws of a state and identifying if the state laws have universal recognition.

International law is basically a system of rules and principles that aims to govern the relations between sovereign s t a t e s. This paper discusses these primary sources of international law in the context of the amendments made to the M i g r a t i o n A c t.

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Territorial sea UNCLOS I I I, in Article 2, confirms the sovereignty of a s t a t e over i t s land territory and internal waters to the “belt” of sea adjacent to its coast called the t e r r i t o r i a l s e a. 19 Article 3 of U N C L O S I I I a l l o w s s t a t e s t o e s t a b l i s h a t e r r i t o r i a l sea extending for 12 n a u t i c a l miles from the m a r i t i m e baseline. Sovereignty e x t e n d s t o t h e a i r s p a c e above t h e t e r r i t o r i a l s e a a n d to its bed and subsoil.

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