State of the States

Beware! Advocates of a Supreme Soviet are working quietly at plans to create a great big new central government, and they’re at it at a university somewhere near you. 

Of recent passing disinterest was a survey conducted by Griffith University proclaiming that four out of ten voters want the States abolished. Really? Name one! Name two! A survey, conducted by Newspoll in conjunction with Griffith sometime in March 2010, apparently found that “support for abolishing state governments has jumped from 31% to 39% in two years, based on a system of government that people would like to see in 20 years.” At least this is how SBS reported the survey in their news. 

The survey was conducted under the auspices of Dr A. J Brown at the Key Centre for Ethics Law Justice and Governance at Griffith University. Dr Brown has been gnawing away at the idea of getting rid of state governments for some time, working towards giving us one great big Federal government — except it couldn’t be a Federal government because there would be no Federation. 

Just how a thousand-odd randomly selected surveyee’s would be equipped to answer the extremely complicated question of “abolition of state governments” is a bit of a mystery — but the thrust of how the results of the poll were extracted perhaps lays in the fact that apparently most respondents were concerned with the effectiveness of delivery of services, rather than the actual forms of government we have. A few days ago Professor David Flint warned of the dangers of a plebiscite, where “people vote on a question without having any details about the consequences of their decision.” The same could well be said of endless surveys that pontificate about “what people want” or at least claim to say what people want. 

Put in the most simplistic terms, our two systems of government in Australia, State and Federal, generally provide two distinct set of functions. The Commonwealth was created originally to provide defence of the nation, post and telegraph services, collect customs duties and provide a High Court. Galloping control-freakism over the years has added to this simplified list. Generally, apart from defence, the Commonwealth doesn’t make things or do things — except print money, collect big taxes, make stamps and issue rather tatty looking passports at exorbitant prices. The Commonwealth likes to run things from an overseeing perspective. It likes to control the purse-strings. They run Medicare — but try finding a Commonwealth-employed doctor in a suburb near you.

The great deliverer of actual physical things and services such as education, health, transport, ports, the day to day laws we live under — the pesky ones — are all the business of state governments. The States build the hospitals and schools and run them. They build the roads and highways, run the trains and most of the buses. They look after agriculture and our rivers, control our planning and building laws and oversee local government. They control, or try to, the police. State governments do all the things that are likely to annoy us at some stage and at other times delight us. State governments take most of the bad hits. 

The state governments provide the checks and balances to prevent an over dominant central government. Think state governments, think checks and balances. Think of the Commonwealth, think of cheques and balances. Left wing politicians would love to destroy the federal system of government we have. Read Lindsay Tanner’s Open Australia (Pluto Press 1999, pages 206 to 210) for an inkling of a Left future. 

The recent foray into state government business by the Commonwealth — such as the batts and electrocuting foil caper, the building of school facilities programs and the Green Loans fiasco, show how out of their depth Commonwealth bureaucrats and their Labor ministers are in running state projects. Thinking about what will happen to our state hospital systems, if the Rudd overhaul becomes a reality, is enough to make you ill. 

Generally, the problem with state governments is that they take their citizens for granted. Children are not taught the history of the Australian states. State governments have little idea of how to instil a sense of pride and achievement in what they are and what they represent. Modern historians, with their passion for resentment, and their dislike for our country, have successfully seen to that. 

Even the briefest look at American history tells a story of a system of government, from the bottom up, not from the top down. The founding of communities and their various, committees, councils and courts. The forming of counties and states, and the eventual Declaration of Independence — a document most concerned that the rights of the individual states were never crushed by an overbearing and oppressive central government. How few Australian children are taught that the writers of the Australian Constitution leant heavily on this American document and its underlying principles. 

Dr Brown has been chewing on the issue of the abolition of the Australian states for some time. In August 2006 the Melbourne Sunday Age ran an article on that year’s Dr Brown survey. That article carried the line “Abolishing state governments would rid the nation of a cumbersome bureaucracy that is costing $30 billion a year — and a RARE SURVEY of state public servants indicates they would be happy to see them go.” What on earth were those public servants on when they ticked those boxes? It couldn’t have been legal. 

This Sunday Age article went on to say “ Ninety percent want the present system changed, with two thirds saying they would prefer a less unwieldily two-tier system. [local government and federal].” Really? Four years later Dr Brown’s survey tell us the number is only 39%. 

Back in 2005 Professor Greg Craven did a Swiftian piece for the Centre of Independent Studies that revealed some of the nonsense being proposed by abolitionists, and politicians both Labor and Liberal, as they denigrate and try to dismantle the Federation. 

Under the heading Federalism: A Quiet Defence Professor Craven said: 

The starting point here is to understand that the standard attack on Australian  federalism, like unsolicited brochures from real estate agents, is not entirely selfless. The authors do not propose the annihilation of the States so that Australians might frolic free from government interference: rather, as the States are hustled from the stage, the Commonwealth will make its modest entrance as arbiter of all things. 

Soaring condemnations of the inefficient, incompetence and irrelevance  of the States need to be heard as corresponding pleas the Australian people to submit themselves to the tender joys of unbridled national government. As the sign in Government offices would read: “Trust me, I’m the Commonwealth.” 

Sounds a bit like; “Hi, I’m Kevin. And I’m here to help!” 


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