The High Court’s decisions in Williams v The Commonwealth: The principle of parliamentary control of public money

Date & time
5.30–6.30pm Wednesday 24 August 2016

Finkel Theatre

John Curtin School of Medical Research, Garran Road, The Australian National University

Will Bateman, University of Cambridge


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.

Nicole Harman

Presented by the Centre for International & Public Law and the Australian Association of Constitutional Law

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The High Court’s decisions in the Williams v The Commonwealth cases wrought a radical change to the settled understanding of the constitutional allocation of financial power between the parliament and executive government — even where appropriation legislation exists, the Commonwealth cannot spend most public money without additional and specific authorising legislation.

That momentous step was justified by a newly minted constitutional principle of “parliamentary control” of public money, and a blend of federal considerations. The orthodox understanding of responsible parliamentary government was challenged and the Australian constitutional law and practice concerning public finance were diverted into uncertain territory.

This presentation analyses the principle of parliamentary control. It situates the Williams cases within a stream of authority concerning the constitutional allocation of financial power and offers an explanation for the High Court’s unpredicted and unusual conclusion. Moving away from doctrine, it then explores the extent to which parliaments both can and should control public money in a Westminster-parliamentary government, including by reference to the historical and contemporary constitutional practices concerning taxation, expenditure and public borrowing.


  • Will Bateman »

    Will Bateman is presently completing his PhD in constitutional law and public finance at the University of Cambridge. Most recently he worked at the High Court as associate to Gageler J, with whom he co-authored a chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of the Australian Constitution. His other writings on constitutional and administrative law have been published in the Federal Law Review, Melbourne University Law Review, Public Law Review and the Sydney Law Review. Will has also worked for several years in public law and commercial litigation at Herbert Smith Freehills and holds first class Honours degrees in law from Cambridge (LLM) and the ANU (LLB).


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