Here are a few recent and not so recent abuses of executive power - largely exercises of the Royal prerogative transferred holus-bolus to the Prime Minister and Cabinet under section 61 of the Constitution:
- two wars entered by default (both World Wars) as a consequence of England declaring war and a number of police actions (such as the Korean war) entered without a formal declaration of war at all.
- Deportations of long-term Australian residents under Section 501 of the Migration Act.
- Changes to the divorce laws which require divorcing couples to undergo counselling with a view to reconciliation.
- The recently removed Ministerial veto over the approval of RU-486.
- Federal funding for pregnancy counselling services to be provided by religious organisations while family planning clinics which offer abortion services are excluded from the funding program (this one might run foul of section 116 of the Constitution, assuming that a High Court challenge is ever mounted).
- Those Sedition Laws.
- The new industrial relations powers Kevin Andrews has handed himself in new regulations released Monday - such as the power to strike out of employment contracts any clause he does not like (see The Age).
- Kim Howzley's recent suck-up to the family values lobby.
In all the examples listed above, Parliament was merely doing what the Constitution allows it to do - cede unfettered power over Australian citizens to the executive. The only limitations on Commonwealth power in the Constitution are in respect to conflicts between the Federal Government and the States. Our British Imperialist Founding Fathers (BIFFs) were pretty complacent about the powers of the executive over the citizenry. Even Section 116 (originally Section 115) which limits the Commonwealth power to establish religion was framed in this spirit. It is included in the section of the Constitution referring to the States and their rights. At the 1898 Constitutional Convention in (Adelaide/Melbourne/Sydney), Edmund Barton rabbited on at length about differences between the proposed Constitution Act of 1897 and the earlier draft of 1890. His rabbitings include these remarks on Section 115/116:
I will not use the words themselves, but say that the preamble states, that the people, who have agreed on the Constitution, humbly rely on the blessing of the Supreme Being. It was feared that some interpretation such as has been taken up in one or two cases in America might lead to this phrase being regarded as an action taken against religious liberty. This Convention has agreed to a clause which prevents any possibility of that kind as regards the Commonwealth, and which does not interfere with the states in questions of their internal regulation, with which, of course, this Commonwealth will not have anything to do. Clause 115 says -
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious. test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
While, therefore, a concession has been made to the popular opinion that some reverential expression should be embodied in the preamble, due care has been taken by the Convention that no reliance upon that provision, and no far-fetched arguments based upon it, shall lead to any infraction of religious liberty under the laws of the Commonwealth which we hope to create. [my emphasis]
In other words, only the Commonwealth is barred from taking action against religious liberty - if the States choose to establish Churches (if, for example, the New South Wales Parliament should take it into its head to establish the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church as the official Church of New South Wales or the Victorian Parliament decided to make the Uniting Church the official Church of Victoria) there is nothing in our national Constitution to prevent this. And that's pretty much the way the BIFFs wanted it. The prerogatives of State governments ("States rights") take precedence over individual rights of religious conscience.
Thanks to that overrated bunch of complacent slack-arses, we have a constitution which is clearly inadequate in defining limits on the power of executive government to interfere in the lives of Australian citizens - hardly surprising, because with one or two exceptions, the buggers were all "British to their bootstraps" and were content to assume that British political tradition would be carried forwad in perpetuity when dealing with Constitutional matters. Clearly, as a matter of history, this hasn't happened and the result is an undefined executive prerogative (formally the Royal prerogative) which successive Parliaments, Governments and even High Courts have interpreted more in favour of giving power to the executive than protecting the rights of Australian citizens. Largely because the idea that there would one day be Australian citizens was beyond the comprehension of the BIFFs.
The argument between Monarchists and Republicans is largely about how we choose the national figurehead - should it be a Government appointee, representing a distant monarch or someone popularly elected. The question has largely been decided in favour of the latter and, once someone comes up with a workable proposal it will probably happen. So maybe it's time to look at some serious constitutional problems - such as the arrogations of power that have happened under this Government and the current Parliament. Or would you prefer to wait until a Laboral Government has control of both Houses of Parliament?