You can’t ban a political party

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the failure of Australia’s constitutional referendum on whether the federal government should have the power to ban the Communist Party.

The referendum followed a defeat in the High Court on the constitutionality of a previous statutory measure, and this decision turned in part on the notion that the power of the courts to strike down legislation was a logically necessary consequence of any constitution which contained a limitation on the power of government (e.g. by division of powers between federation and states).

In practice, the ban proved unnecessary.

The odd thing is, the first I must ever heard about this was in the playground as a nine-year-old. I have no recollection whatsoever of how this came up, but I distinctly recall the new kid, Robertson, asserting “You can’t ban a political party!”, as though this were the sort of basic thing every kid should be ashamed not to know, like how to swim or where milk comes from. It was only when I was teenager in Germany and the possibility of banning Die Republikaner came up that it even occurred to me that the inability to ban political parties wasn’t universal.

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