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Balance of power

The High Court’s decision yesterday to reject challenges by the states and unions to the Commonwealth’s workplace relations laws has momentous implications for Australian federalism. The Commonwealth has the legal power to override state industrial legislation.

But more than that the ruling gives the Commonwealth the right to regulate almost all aspects of corporations in our society including private schools, health care (public and private hospitals and many other service providers are becoming incorporated), the media, power, utilities (including water), occupational health/safety and the universities/tertiary colleges. Justice Kirby’s (informative) dissenting judgement is here.

Employers will increase their use of individual agreements under Work Choices now that legal uncertainty about the new laws has gone.

In an interesting comment Patrick Keyzer said the outcomre could be predicted as far back as 1920 when the High Court ruled that there were no law-making powers that could be reserved by the state governments.

The Prime Minister welcomed the outcome saying that Australia was a nation before it was a collection of states. He also stated that he wouldn’t move quickly to claim the new powers that had now become apparent. Some see the move however as a dangerous socialist intrusion, particularly when Labor regains Federal power. I have already voiced my concern with centralised high school educational curricula and the idea so I have some sympathy for such views. Could Labor move to reregulate the economy and the workplace? It probably could but, as the AFR editorial remarks today (subscription required), recent history suggests it probably will not.

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