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The Balancing Act

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In a federal system of government, Commonwealth and State governments have power. This is the balance of power and during time the balance changes. It should be noted that, under Section 109 of the Commonwealth Constitution, when a State law is inconsistent with a Commonwealth law, the Commonwealth law will override the State law.

Under Section 51, of the Commonwealth Constitution, responsibilities given to the Commonwealth at Federation related to such matters as:

  • Defence and external affairs;
  • Navigation, quarantine and meteorological services;
  • Immigration, citizenship, matrimonial status;
  • International and interstate trade and commerce;
  • Currency, non-State banking and insurance;
  • Conciliation and arbitration for interstate industrial disputes;
  • Postal and telecommunications services, conditional powers with respect to railways; and
  • Invalid and old age pensions.

The Commonwealth Constitution does not list any powers of the States, but at Federation the States were considered to have sole responsibility for everything not specified in the Commonwealth Constitution. This included:

  • Law and order within Australia;
  • The regulation of commerce and industry;
  • Transport services; natural resources, including land;
  • Essential services such as water supply, sewerage, drainage, electricity and gas;
  • Local government;
  • Education, housing and health;
  • The environment; and
  • Industrial relations.

At Federation, the Commonwealth and States shared a number of tax powers, but with the Commonwealth having exclusive power over customs and excise duties.