Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Constitutional Change in Australia - the view from 1926: Power will be Exercised

In my previous posts in this series I outlined the constitutional views expressed by David Drummond in 1926. I am now going to extend this analysis by looking at Drummond's principles in light of current experience.

There is a strong continuing view in Australia that the present Federal structure should be replaced by a union government with regional councils with delegated powers leaving the national government with power of veto.

Drummond had a simple answer to this: he pointed to the experience of local government in NSW. There the central government had drawn all power to itself, "leaving but the shadow to the local governing authorities."

This result, Drummond suggested, was inevitable in a unitary system; "whenever a political party sees the opportunity of strengthening its position at the expense of something or someone else, it will not be deterred by purely academic considerations."

I don't think that there can be any arguments with this one.

As I write, the Blair Labor Government in the UK is in the process of over-riding Scottish law on adoptions, while in Australia the Attorney General has signalled the the Commonwealth Parliament will again over-ride the ACT Government's proposed legislation granting legal recognition to same sex couples. We have previously seen the Commonwealth Government act to over-ride Northern Territory legislation. All three parliaments - Scotland, ACT and NT - operate under powers delegated by the national parliament.

You may or may not think that this is a bad thing. But the principle does need to be taken into account in any discussions on constitutional reform.

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