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Federal Reform: The Case for Supportive Subsidiarity in Australia


Jacob Deem

Reforming Australia’s federation is a critical but elusive goal, as the system is plagued by service delivery failures, blame-shifting and inefficiency. The principle of subsidiarity, which aims to localise decision-making and strengthen communities, is sometimes invoked to guide reform efforts, but so far has had little substantive impact. This article argues that previous efforts have applied a decentralist interpretation of subsidiarity as ‘decision-making as close to the people as possible’, which is too narrow, and that taking a broader approach focussing on supportive elements of the principle would be more successful in the Australian context. This argument is supported by an analysis of how supportive subsidiarity aligns constitutionally and institutionally with Australia’s federal structure, and through data from a large-N public attitude survey indicating that supportive subsidiarity is valued more highly than the decentralist interpretation.

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(2021) 44(2) UNSWLJ 613: