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§ 398. “On such Basis as it Deems Fair.”

The words as originally proposed by the Finance Committee were “on such basis as shall be fair;” but these words were altered to prevent any possibility of its being contended that any assumed unfairness might be made the subject of an appeal to the High Court, thereby making that tribunal the arbiter of a purely political matter. (See Conv. Deb., Melb., pp. 1085–9.) The Parliament is therefore laid under a solemn constitutional obligation to provide a “fair” basis, but it is made the sole judge of what is fair. The command is addressed to the conscience of the Parliament and of the people; and such a command, embodied in the Constitution, is not likely to be disregarded.

But leaving intentional unfairness out of the question, the question what is fair may lead to considerable differences of opinion. It is submitted that the constitutional command that the basis shall be “fair” will strengthen the claims of a basis founded on a broad principle. The only basis which the Convention—from the standpoint of existing provincial conditions—could agree upon as “fair” was the basis of the contributions


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made and the benefits received by the people of each State. But the basis which nearly every member of the Convention regarded—from the federal standpoint—as being ultimately fair, was the basis of distribution in proportion to population. The contribution basis was regarded as fair for the present—but somewhat unfederal. The population basis was regarded as being unfair for the present, owing to the conditions which had been created by the provincial system, and which would take some time to remove; but as being the ideal which, under federal conditions, it would be possible to approach, and finally to reach. The first Adelaide draft, and afterwards the Adelaide sliding scale, proposed to reach the per capita basis, by different roads, at the end of five years; and the final decision of the Convention represents, not so much a doubt that the per capita basis will be ultimately fair, but a doubt whether the circumstances which made it unfair for the present will not take more than five years to eliminate. The Convention certainly expected that the basis chosen by the Parliament would be, if not the per capita basis, at least an approximation to it—a compromise, in fact, between the per capita basis and the contribution basis. Somewhere between these two principles it is likely that the ultimate solution will be found.

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