Has the High Court imposed spending constraint on the Commonwealth?

In the Fairfax broadsheets this morning, constitutional law academic George Williams gives his reading of the High Court’s judgment in Pape v Commissioner of Taxation and the Commonwealth of Australia.

As readers may recall, earlier in the year UNE academic Bryan Pape challenged the constitutional validity of the government’s tax bonus payments. Unlike the whinging cultural offspring of the welfare state who missed out on it, Pape was among other things seeking an injunction stopping the ATO paying him the money.

The High Court decided against him, but as is common in constitutional cases there were many different arguments made. Williams argues that though the Commonwealth persuaded the Court on enough of these to get a verdict in its favour, comments made by the judges on their other arguments raise questions about the validity of other Commonwealth spending.

The issue here is that the Commonwealth has long spent money on things for which it has no legislative power under the Constitution. Various additional spending powers have been read into the Constitution as relating to the executive power of the Commonwealth or an implied ‘nationhood’ power. As Justice Mason put it in 1975: Continue reading “Has the High Court imposed spending constraint on the Commonwealth?”