It is becoming apparent that among our leaders there are few federalists left. And yet we were established as an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown. It is reasonable to assume from the various referendums taken over the years that the people are wary of handing more power to the federal authorities.
The Samuel Griffith Society remains the principal proponent of federalism as it was intended and it was and has been approved by the people. The Society held its 21st Conference in that old bastion of free speech and democracy, the capital of South Australia, Adelaide.
In his concluding remarks, the President, Sir David Smith said:
The themes of the conference were bills of right, federalism, upper houses of parliament, the counting of referendum majorities, and judicial appointments.
The bills of rights papers were set against the inquiry currently being conducted by the Brennan committee. The federalism papers were set against Chapter III of the Constitution – The Judicature; state and territory differences in the regulation of goods and the licensing of occupations; and the High Court’s judgement in Pape v Commissioner of Taxation. (Here I must acknowledge the Society’s admiration of our member, Bryan Pape, for his courage in mounting this most important case.)
The papers on the role of upper houses of Parliament were set against the current proposal to abolish South Australia’s Legislative Council, and the abolition of Queensland’s Legislative Council in 1922. In the papers on judicial appointments we heard the arguments for and against reform of the process.
We were also given a short paper on the various ways in which majorities might be counted in bringing into operation sections 57 and 128 of the Australian Constitution.
All of our conference themes were highly relevant to current political debates, and all of our speakers gave us significant contributions to those debates. We are indebted to them all, and on your behalf I thank them most sincerely.
As I reminded members of the Society in my concluding remarks at last year’s conference, our inaugural president, Sir Harry Gibbs, exhorted us to participate in the process of public education and debate on the Constitution. With the publication, in due course, of the proceedings of this conference, and with their inclusion on the Society’s web site alongside the proceedings of all of our previous conferences, the Society will continue to live up to the charge which Sir Harry placed upon us in his launching address to our first conference on 24 July 1992.