On the Origin of Section 96 of the Constitution
28 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2016
Date Written: November 22, 2016
The origins of s 96 of the Constitution have long been mysterious, despite its great importance in constitutional practice. All that was known of it was that it was rejected at the 1898 Conventions and inserted early in 1899 at the ‘secret’ Premiers’ Conference consequent upon the rejection of the Bill in New South Wales. This article shows that there are good reasons for concluding that s 96 was inserted at the instance of the Premier of Queensland, (Sir) James Dickson. He was worried that Queensland might need extra assistance because of its high dependence upon customs duties as a source of taxation revenue. The article also summarises the public debate on s 96 and shows that no-one at the time thought that it would have the role that it has come to have: some thought of it as a federal guarantee of State solvency and others as a means of avoiding unnecessarily high customs duties, but no-one thought that the ‘terms and conditions’ could be more important than the money. To a large extent it was inserted because the future would contain challenges that could not be foreseen.
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