In a 2014 article published in the Adelaide Law Review, Professor Harold Bruff explained the U.S. executive power to an Australian audience. Bruff described the constitutions of Australia and the United States as “cousins”; they share some traits—such as federalism—but in other areas there is less of a resemblance. The Australian system of government blends features of the federal system of the United States with the parliamentary system of the United Kingdom. In 1980, Elaine Thompson famously described it as a “Washminster” system of government. The framers of the Australian Constitution were familiar with the U.S. Constitution, both through their readings—particularly Lord Bryce’s well-timed treatise, The American Commonwealth, published the decade preceding the major Australian constitutional drafting conventions—and through their personal experiences. The development of the U.S. Constitution and the constitutional practices of the United Kingdom were frequently referenced and compared during the drafting of the Australian Constitution.
Bruff considered how the American experience might assist in Australia’s understanding of its executive power, particularly at a time when the Australian government appears to be increasingly relying upon “inherent,” extrastatutory sources as the basis for its actions. Since Bruff’s article there have been a number of further instances when the High Court of Australia has had to consider the scope of executive power. Against the background of such developments, this Article provides a brief explanation of the Australian executive power and, drawing on Bruff’s American analysis, offers a comparison of the two systems of executive government. In this Article, we argue that the High Court has played an important role in regulating the limits of executive power in circumstances where the legislature has been reluctant to supervise the executive.
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