When he presented the 2007 Hal Wootten lecture at UNSW, former High Court Justice, Michael McHugh, QC, AC outlined how, by laying down the boundaries of State and Federal legislative power, the High Court has often frustrated the legislative policies of political parties of the Left, the Right and the Centre.

Notable examples of this, cited by Justice McHugh, include the invalidation of the Bank Nationalisation legislation of the Labour Party, the Communist Party Dissolution legislation of the Liberal and Country Parties and the fair and reasonable conditions of employment legislation enacted by the Liberal Protectionist party of the Centre in the early years of federation. Additionally, decisions on the common law have often forced the Federal and State legislatures to enact controversial and politically divisive legislation to respond to those decisions. The decisions in Mabo and Wik are notable examples in this regard.

The overarching picture painted by Justice McHugh is one in which national government has steadily benefited from the expansive view taken of its constitutional powers by the High Court since the 1920 decision in the Engineers case. By asking us to consider the form which governance in Australia might have taken had the High Court persisted with a constitutional methodology which preserved State power, Justice McHugh demonstrated the impact of the Court's work upon the development of the nation.

Image caption: Professor Hal Wootten, the Hon Michael McHugh, Emeritis Professor Garth Nettheim, Norm Newlin, Professor George Williams, and Dean of Law Professor David Dixon.