power and the States
In the 100 years since Federation there have been 43 constitutional amendments put to the Australian electorate. Of these only eight have succeeded, with just three of the proposals increasing Commonwealth power in relation to the States. Five proposals put to referendum won a majority of votes but failed to win a majority of States, while the remainder of referenda failed by substantial majorities.
Clearly the Commonwealth Constitution is very difficult to alter, yet the powers of the Commonwealth have increased over the years. This has been due in part to the evolution of Australian political institutions and to the interpretations given to the Constitution by the High Court which have often favoured the Commonwealth.
Two world wars required the federal government to assume considerable powers as part of its defence role, which it did not relinquish in peace time. For example, the First World War saw an increase in Commonwealth control over the economy, commerce, trade, taxes and social services. These changes remained in place in peacetime to enable the Australian government to pay war debt and to care for returned soldiers.
Similarly in 1942 the Commonwealth assumed many new powers, including taking complete control of income taxation from the States - a move backed by the High Court. The Commonwealth Grants Commission which had been set up in 1933 to formalise payments of general revenue to the States after many years of ad hoc payments, became the vehicle through which finances were transferred back to the States.
The Commonwealth has steadily increased its area of influence in Australian polticial life. In the first half of the century the formation of State branches of national unions enabled the Commonwealth to get around the constitutional restriction that it could not legislate for "conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of one State". After the Second World War the growth of a global economy also made Commonwealth control over economic policy more important, while the federal government increasingly entered into international treaties and conventions.
Some decisions of the High Court have frustrated Commonwealth Governments - for example, it has refused the Commonwealth the power to ban the Communist Party, to nationalise banks, and to ban political advertising. However, there are a number of key decisions which have affected Commonwealth/State relations, including.