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Thematic Issue: Revitalising Legal Authorities

The Commonwealth Executive Power: Historical Constitutional Origins and the Future of the Prerogative


Catherine Dale Greentree

This article argues that the Commonwealth’s non-statutory executive power should be interpreted using an ‘historical constitutional approach’, first developed by JWF Allison for the United Kingdom. Some argue that the non-statutory executive power should be informed by the Crown’s historical prerogative powers and the common law (the ‘common law view’), while the High Court has recognised an inherent ‘nationhood power’ sourced directly in section 61 of the Australian Constitution, that does not require reference to the common law or the prerogatives (the ‘inherent view’). Peter Gerangelos identified a potential jurisprudential shift after Gageler J seemingly adopted an historical approach in Plaintiff M68/2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2016) 257 CLR 42. This article argues that interpreting section 61 through an historical constitutional lens would be in keeping with the origins, influences, and common law limitations on the development of the Crown’s powers in Australia since Federation. This will better ensure fidelity to fundamental constitutional principles than the inherent approach.

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(2020) 43(3) UNSWLJ 893: