Federal

Sep 8, 2017

High Court win could further concentrate the government’s power

The High Court appears to have opened the way further to unchecked executive expenditure with its marriage equality decision.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

So Malcolm Turnbull finally caught a break. After a shocking run of bad luck and self-inflicted injuries, the Prime Minister was due for some good fortune, and the High Court delivered it yesterday afternoon. If the court had found the government's attempt to circumvent the Senate's refusal to support a plebiscite by using an emergency fund to get the Australian Bureau of Statistics to conduct a mail survey was unlawful, it not merely would have revised the marriage equality crisis within Liberal ranks; it would have suggested that this is a government that can't even do simple things like spend money legally.

We don't yet know the High Court's rationale for dismissing the suits brought by marriage equality supporters to halt the survey. But it's hard to see how it won't expand the capacity of governments to use the Advance to the Finance Minister for whatever they like, even when Parliament has specifically rejected legislation for that expenditure -- as happened in the case of the plebiscite bill. The Advance is currently limited to $295 million but that could be increased in next year's budget to whatever figure the government likes. Notionally, the Advance is limited to

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