The constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, as defined by the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900, is of a different character. The Federal Parliament is entrusted with power to make laws with respect to a number of subjects divided into no less than 39 classes (sect. 51); the State Legislatures have concurrent powers of legislation, but in case of conflict the law of the Commonwealth is to prevail over the State law (sect. 109). The “residuary powers” are in this case left to the States. There is power to alter the Constitution with the consent of a majority of the electors in a majority of the States and of a majority of the electors of the Commonwealth (sect. 123)—a power which has been freely used.
The case of South Africa is sometimes cited as a precedent for loosening the bonds in the United Kingdom. It is a strong precedent for closer union. The South Africa Act, 1909, created in fact as well as in name, not a Federation but a true Legislative Union. Under the Act, the South African colonies were “united in a legislative union under one government under the name of the Union of South Africa” (sect. 4). The legislative power is vested in the Parliament of the Union (sect. 19), which has full power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Union (sect. 59). In each province (formerly a colony) there is an administrator appointed by the Governor-General of the Union in Council (sect. 68), and a Provincial Council (sect. 70); but the powers of the Provincial Councils are confined within narrow limits (sect. 85), and their ordinances (they are not called laws) have effect within the province as long as and so far as they are not repugnant to any Act of the Union Parliament (sect. 86). The Supreme Courts of the old colonies become provincial divisions of the Supreme Court of South Africa (sect. 98), and the colonial property and debts are transferred to the Union (sects. 121-124). In fact, in South Africa, where, as in Ireland, the distinction in the past has been racial and not territorial, Union and not Federation has gained the day. It is safe to prophesy that the coming proposals of the Government will not follow the South African plan.
The South African precedent leads naturally to a few observations on the proposals for the extension of local self-government, usually classified under the head of Devolution. These proposals differ, not in degree only but in kind, from schemes for the granting of responsible government, or Gladstonian Home Rule. Under all devolutionary schemes, properly so-called, the central Parliament and executive remain the ultimate depositaries of power; and the powers entrusted to local bodies are administrative only, and can be resumed at will. The Acts by which County Councils were set up, first in Great Britain and afterwards in Ireland, were steps in this direction. The Welsh Intermediate