Melbourne Corporation v Commonwealth

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Melbourne Corporation v Commonwealth
Australian coat of arms 1912 edit.png
Court High Court of Australia
Full case name The Lord Mayor, Councillors and Citizens of the City of Melbourne v The Commonwealth and Another
Decided 13 August 1947
Citation(s) (1947) 74 CLR 31; [1947] HCA 26
Case history
Prior action(s) none
Subsequent action(s) none
Case opinions
(5:1) any Commonwealth law that is otherwise valid under a head of power in s51 or some other part of the Constitution if it denies the existence or ability of a State to govern itself or the federal structure of the Commonwealth or singles out any one State
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Latham CJ, Rich, Starke, Dixon, McTiernan, Williams JJ

Melbourne Corporation v Commonwealth (1947) 74 CLR 31; [1947] HCA 26 (13 August 1947), also known as the Melbourne Corporation case or the State banking case, is an important case in Australian constitutional law. It stands for the proposition that there are limits on the scope of express Commonwealth legislative powers which can be implied from the federal character of the Constitution.

The Melbourne Corporation principle is an implied limit on Commonwealth legislative power under the Constitution of Australia. This is due to the express federal nature of the governmental structure described by the Constitution in having a federation of states combine into one Commonwealth.

The principle renders constitutionally invalid any Commonwealth law that is otherwise valid under a head of power in s51 or some other part of the Constitution if it:

  1. Denies the existence or ability of a State to govern itself or the federal structure of the Commonwealth; and
  2. Singles out States.

A recent case of Austin v Commonwealth (2003) conflated the original 2 limbed test of the original case into an expanded 1st limb so that a commonwealth law that affects a state's ability to administer itself is constitutionally invalid.

This constitutional protection is one of the few reliable protections in the Australian Constitution against legislative and executive power, the other main protection being the Chapter III Separation of Powers Doctrine.

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