Finance minister Nick Minchin made a revealing comment on budget night when he told Lateline's Ali Moore that education is "one of the Federal Government's most fundamental responsibilities, particularly higher education". Moore evidently didn't think to respond with "But that's not what The Constitution says, is it?"

Constitutionally, the federal government has no responsibility at all for education. But higher education in particular is probably the best example of how Canberra has used its financial powers to seize control of a whole field of activity.