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The Commonwealth and Western Australia

Anti-conscription pamphlet, 1917Over the first 100 years of Federation, Commonwealth/State relations have been influenced by the size of Western Australia, its distance from Canberra, and its small population. While consisting of a third of the continent, Western Australia has always been one of the 'small' States and until the late 1960s a 'mendicant' State, dependent on the generosity of the Commonwealth to provide services to the level of the other States.

With just under 10% of the population, Western Australians have a limited voice in federal politics. Conscious of the potential for New South Wales and Victoria to dominate an Australian Parliament, the federal system aimed to give extra weight to the States by allowing for an upper house consisting of an equal number of senators from each State.

The Senate was intended as a State's House, in which senators represented their State's perspective in reviewing legislation from the House of Representatives, but it quickly evolved into a forum for party politics. In recent times the nature of the Senate has changed again with the growth of small parties. As the current Leader of the Opposition, Geoff Gallop, observed, the Senate represents
Federal politicians"a broad range of interest because of proportional representation and I don't see it as 'unrepresentative swill' as someone once said.
I think it plays a very useful role in our system. As annoying as that can be to any Labor Government I think it's better for our society to have that balance.

Geoff Gallop, April 2000
[Battye Library, OH3012]
JudgesThe other area where Commonwealth/State relations have evolved in ways unrecognisable to the founders of Federation have been influenced by the High Court. It has played a crucial role in the extension of Commonwealth powers at the expense of State powers.

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