Literal construction of the Constitution

Amalgamated Society of Engineers v Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd (1920) 28 CLR 129 ( (Engineers Case) ushered in a period of literal interpretation of the Constitution.

Sir Owen Dixon did not accept a reading of Engineers that precluded doctrine based on an implication from the text or structure of the Constitution. In Melbourne Corporation (1947) 74 CLR 31 at 78 his Honour said:

“The prima-facie rule is that a power to legislate with respect to a given subject enables the Parliament to make laws which, upon that subject, affect the operations of the States and their agencies. That, as I have pointed out more than once, is the effect of the Engineers’ Case stripped of embellishment and reduced to the form of a legal proposition.”:  

Earlier he had written: “We should avoid pedantic and narrow constructions in dealing with an instrument of government and I do not see why we should be fearful about making implications.” (The Airways Case (1945) 71 CLR 29, 85