University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series
Last Updated: 18 June 2013
Williams v Commonwealth — Commonwealth Executive Power and Australian Federalism
Shipra Chordia, University of New South Wales
Andrew Lynch, University of New South Wales
George Williams, University of New South Wales
This paper is available for download at Available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2281080
This paper is to be published in (2013) Melbourne University Law Review Vol 37(1), forthcoming. This paper may also be referenced as  UNSWLRS 35.
A majority of the High Court in Williams v Commonwealth held that the Commonwealth executive does not have a general power to enter into contracts and spend public money absent statutory authority or some other recognised source of power. This article surveys the Court’s reasoning in reaching this surprising conclusion. It also considers the wider implications of the case for federalism in Australia. In particular, it examines: (1) the potential use of s 96 grants to deliver programs that have in the past been directly funded by Commonwealth executive contracts; and (2) the question of whether statutory authority may be required for the Commonwealth executive to participate in intergovernmental agreements.