Chapter 13 - Financial legislation

Governor-General’s messages

Section 56 of the Constitution provides:

A vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of revenue or moneys shall not be passed unless the purpose of the appropriation has in the same session been recommended by message of the Governor-General to the House in which the proposal originated.

The purpose of this section is usually stated to be the preservation of the exclusive right of the executive government to initiate appropriations.

The reference in the section to a measure being passed is taken to refer to passage by the House in which the measure originates. In accordance with this interpretation, messages by the Governor-General recommending appropriations for the purposes of particular appropriation bills are usually reported to the House of Representatives before the bills are passed. There have been occasions, however, of messages referring to bills being reported after the bills have been passed by the House. Moreover, messages are usually framed so as to refer to any appropriation required by a bill or by any amendment to be moved by a minister, without any specification of the appropriation authorised by the messages. The messages are, therefore, largely a formality, but they reinforce the ministry’s control of the House of Representatives.

As appropriation bills must originate in the House of Representatives, the section applies in practice only to that House, and Governor-General’s messages of this kind are therefore not produced in the Senate. The reason for the reference in the section to “the House in which the proposal originated” was perhaps that the section was intended to apply in respect of bills which impose penalties or fees, which are not appropriation bills for the purposes of section 53 and which may therefore originate in the Senate (see J. Quick and R.R. Garran, Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, 1901, pp 682-3).

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