Section 51 of the Australian Constitution provides for a division of powers between the federal and state governments. The Australian Constitution does not provide for local government.
While strictly speaking, the powers of the states are not mentioned in the Constitution, section 107 of the Constitution cites that powers that are not vested in the commonwealth by the act remain with the states. These are known as ‘residual’ powers and enable the states to make laws for their region, economy and population.
In some areas, the commonwealth and states have concurrent powers to make laws. Under the Australian Constitution (s.109), where a state law is inconsistent with a commonwealth law, the state law is rendered invalid to the extent of the inconsistency and the commonwealth law prevails. In these instances, federal laws can be said to have priority over state laws.
Powers specified in the Australian Constitution:
- Interstate trade and commerce
- Patents and trademarks
- Naturalisation and aliens [foreigner]
- Social security
- External affairs
- Pacific islands
- Acquisition of property
- Conciliation and arbitration
Examples of residual powers:
- Public housing
- Criminal/civil law
- The environment
- Schools and hospitals
- Transport and police
- Natural resources and land
- Public utilities (i.e. electricity, roads and infrastructure)