Australian Federalism: An Innovation in Constitutionalism

Authored by: Haig Patapan

The Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism

Print publication date:  August  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671312
eBook ISBN: 9781315612966
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043454


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The Commonwealth of Australia came into being on 1 January 1901. On that day the former colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, “agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth.” The new Australian Constitution, drafted in the course of public conventions and finally adopted through referenda, transformed the former colonies into states, preserving as much as possible their constitutions. It also brought into being a new federal government made up of a new parliament and executive, as well as a new federal judiciary. From this perspective the rather spare and prosaic provisions of the Constitution confirm the Australian founding to be, in essence, a federation, where colonial concerns regarding defence and economic efficiency were accommodated while retaining as much as possible their Westminster inheritance. Accordingly much of the scholarship on Australian constitutionalism, and indeed the bulk of its constitutional litigation, has concerned aspects of Australian federalism; scholarly debate has been dominated by the problem of commonwealth–state relations, the judicial resolution of such disputes, and the far-reaching political and public policy consequences of these debates.

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