Federalising Socialism without Doctrine

31 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2022 Last revised: 7 Sep 2023

See all articles by Will Bateman

Will Bateman

Australian National University (ANU)

Date Written: November 5, 2022


The Australian Constitution is only partly ‘liberal’ (securing political and economic liberties); another part is ‘socialist without doctrine’ (empowering governments to own and operate vast public capital, while providing social insurance in a market economy). That mixture is common in modern advanced economies, but was rare in the Anglophone national constitutional tradition at 1901. The colonies developed novel constitutional arrangements to own and operate the largest business enterprises of the pre-Federation period, exploit offshore capital markets for preferential finance and provide universal public-pension schemes. The Commonwealth Constitution entrenched some elements of the ‘colonial socialist’ period, notably legislative power over social insurance and infrastructure development, while leaving the federal polity’s financial structure in abeyance. That constitutional mismatch triggered one of the longest-standing puzzles in Australian jurisprudence: the Surplus Revenue Case of 1908. The High Court’s resolution of that case federalised the potent state model that emerged from the colonial period. Understanding the enduring impact of colonial socialism in Australian constitutionalism sheds light on how Australia’s distinctive political economy grew within a ‘Washminster’ system of government.

Keywords: Constitutions, Economics, Australia, Socialism, Liberalism, Judiciary

Suggested Citation

Bateman, Will, Federalising Socialism without Doctrine (November 5, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4278143 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4278143

Will Bateman (Contact Author)

Australian National University (ANU) ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

HOME PAGE: http://https://law.anu.edu.au/people/will-bateman

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