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The Forum > Article Comments > Under a centralising Federal Government > Comments

Under a centralising Federal Government : Comments

By Bruce Haigh, published 19/5/2008

Under a centralising Federal government, what is the future for States’ rights and the separation of powers embodied in the Constitution?

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I work in the local government sphere and my vision for 2030, shared by many colleagues, is for Australia to move towards a two-tier system of government, with one national law maker and strong local governments. Our role in 2030 would be to deliver public services formerly managed by the states to high national performance standards and provide our communities with infrastructure according to their expressed needs and priorities. The key concepts here are efficiency and empowerment of communities.

The cost savings of streamlining government in Australia to two-tiers is likely to be in the order of over $30 billion per annum according to postgraduate research conducted at the University of Canberra.

Essential service sectors and national infrastructure are under severe financial stress. Economic 'roots and branch' reform foreshadowed by Rudd needs to extend to reform to the basic structure of government to ensure that Australia remains competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Given the changes and challenges since federation, the overhaul that is needed to the constitution is quite radical, and is therefore quite complex. The next constitutional referendum could include a republic question as well as preamble and substantive inclusions relating to indigenous Australians, a Bill of Rights and the role of local government.

The enormous relentless compounding cost of duplicated bureaucracy and regulatory friction of 9 sovereign governments will increasingly place an unsustainable burden on tax payers, produce sub-optimal services and harm Australia’s competitive advantage.

A constitutional summit, convened by the Australian Local Government Association, will be held in the Melbourne Convention Centre from 9-11 December 2008 following community consultation.

Any or all of these options may be raised at the constitutional summit with a view to establishing a clear constitutional capacity for the Commonwealth to establish the structure under which local government operates. The alternative to significant and substantive reform is mere rhetoric that goes no further than tinkering on the edge of federalism.
Posted by Quick response, Monday, 19 May 2008 10:37:13 AM
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So QR you want to get rid of the states? Well in the process you will also strip me of 2/5 of my democratic power, a power that gives me a say in who and what gets to govern me.

At present every three years or there abouts I get to vote for the upper and lower houses of the fedral parliament, the upper and lower houses of the state parliament, and my local government. Thats five and to tell you the truth I'm not sure thats enough, now you want to strip me of two of them?

Democracy costs in many ways and yes some of those costs are through inefficiencies. But even at $30 billion p.a. (not a figure I accept) that represents about $1500 for each of us. It would be an interesting question to ask, what is our democracy worth?

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a duty of governments to strive for the efficient delivery of services. But our present system tends to curb the abuses of power.

I was happy that my state government was able to thwart some of Howard's excesses after he gained power in the senate. They represented a second line of defense.

There were many within the political classes who thought the Australian people were schitzo when they were voting Liberal federally but Labour in the states. I didn't. I think we value the ability to impose checks and balances through our votes. If you want to take 2/5ths of that power away from us you will not get it lightly.
Posted by csteele, Monday, 19 May 2008 3:59:54 PM
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What emotive clap trap to talk about that it is "generally accepted" and "unreasonable exercise of power" (by the Commonwealth) and "protection of the rights of the citizens".

We have something like 1.6 million people per layer of government acknowledging 13 layers of state and federal governments with upper and lower houses. Across the Tasman they have just ONE layer. Are New Zealand citizens therefore unprotected? And what did Europe achieve through unification?

Look who leads and aspires to lead the state governments? What do they REALLY achieve that could not be done by the Commonwealth?

OK states like WA have ten per cent of the population and command one third of the land area. Yes they may feel disadvantaged through the abolition of borders. Look at all the nonsense that those borders entails.

Just look at international representation for encouraging industry investment - who does it and what does it achieve?. Look at the nonsense with the Murray Darling and the $9bn bribery required. Look at education, transport, laws, and accreditation of some professions.

I suggest if we cut the emotive rhetoric, we can see that federalism presents a HUGE price to efficiency and living standards. Europe unified, now it is Australia's turn.

Scrap the borders. We are proudly Australian!
Posted by Remco, Monday, 19 May 2008 6:56:55 PM
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It would suprise me if anyone here knew their rights.

Did you know the states cannot change their constitution without a referendum.

Did you know that the 2001 election was not carried out as per the constitution.

So what rights do you have.

Well you have the right to slobber at the feet of a party at election time

You have the right to do as you are told by party politics and the unions.

You have the right to pay the unions so they can fund the labor party.


You have the right to stand up and fight for yourself.

Stuart Ulrich
Posted by tapp, Monday, 19 May 2008 6:59:40 PM
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I suggest that $30 billion, as quoted above by QuickResponse as being the cost that internal borders represent to Australia , could well be a conservative estimate.

Does it take into account lost investment by the states competing against one another; reduced productivity in regulatory compliance; reduced education standards (not helped by those state-based teacher unions opposing accountability dressed up under some flap about the 'disadvantaged'); internal bickering displacing address of national issues that impact on competitiveness, environment, quality standards etc; and creating a business vision for Australia when the removalist industry (ie resources) inevitably runs out of steam; etc.

It is a shame that the commodity boom has deferred the recession that Australia would have been in. It is when times are sick when the parasites like those in the sheep dip, float to the top and seen for what they are.

Bruce Haigh has a typical bureaucratic emotive line about state and citizen rights. We are beginning to see through that veil of waffle.

I say .........."Look, those state mandarins have no clothes on."
Posted by Remco, Monday, 19 May 2008 7:47:26 PM
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Bruce Haigh's concern over the Australian Constitution reveals a certain disturbing naivete for one with such an august CV.

Despite highlighting the observations of federal/state relations by ANU Research Fellow and Professor of Public Administration at the University of Southern California, Gerald Caden, he nevertheless appears hesitant to expose the name and true nature of the 'grubby political process' responsible.

The end game or 'bottom line' here is the limitless private accumulation - by the various 'players' involved .. prime ministers, 'executive' public servants etcetera - of surplus or capital wealth, and the power and privileges such enormous wealth commands.

Under this alienating system of 'wealth creation', individuals, corporations, states, and whole regions of our fragile planet are pitted against each another in 'competition' ... supposedly a 'good thing'. However competition invariably leads to conflict, instanced by the military mis-adventures and 'humanitarian interventions' in Afghanistan, Iraq and the former Democratic Republic of Yugoslavia.

He goes on to argue that "Over the past 12 years we saw a government .. use the so-called War on Terror to increase power at the expense of the states", concluding that former prime minister Howard and his close confidant, Moore-Wilton, "acquired and stored power in the prime minister's department and office."

With Moore-Wilton now 'going forward' in the private sector, and many of our 'people's representatives' multi-millionaires who dominate our politico-economic relations, Haigh is correct in arguing that the current head of our 'common-wealth' treasury is ... "wrong in claiming that the market will regulate and conserve water through price ... It will create winners and losers, cartels and monopolies, which will work only to the benefit of ..the top end of town."

Can't be any other way under a system whose dominant, anti-social ideology encourages the limitless private accumulation of massive surplus wealth or Capital by a 5 percent or so minority of the Australian polity, Mr Haigh ... Political Economy 101.
Posted by Sowat, Monday, 19 May 2008 11:30:48 PM
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