Saturday, July 28, 2007

A centralist push

Any analysis of the key issues in the current Australian pre-election campaign sees devolution to a federal push to centralism. That is; reducing the powers of the individual states in favour of a central government.

I don’t recall the referendum which gave the Howard/Vaile government authority to usurp out constitution. I also find it faintly ironic from a government failing those responsibilities within its own jurisdiction.

The dramatic failure in pursuing alleged terrorists; the threat to force take over of states water responsibilities; the heavy handed takeover of Northern Territory Aboriginal lands; a dubious record of fiscal management (they have already surrendered economic management), are counterpointed by incursions into state areas of responsibility.

While withholding essential funding from the states for health, education, infrastructure and transport, the Feds have been establishing target funding and grants directly into these areas. As the states attempt to implement their rightful responsibilities the Feds are overlaying their own programs.

Without clear responsibility it becomes difficult to focus community concern where it should rightfully belong. As our basic social infrastructure continues to degrade lines of responsibility become fuzzier.

Of course Howard/Vaile are happy with that result, all the easier to lash out and blame the states as confusion reigns. Even more distressing is that the opposition, the likely next Federal Government, are simply shadowing the conservatives push to centralism.

In past years there would have been a clamour around the country and demands to return to constitutional designs. It seems now that few people either know or care about the underpinnings of our federation.


Anonymous said...

Knowing next to nothing about the Australian Constitution, I have to ask: What guarantees exist to prevent a federal usurpation of power, and does your high court have the final say on the issue?

Anonymous said...

BTW...hadn't noticed this new tag line:

Bringing the hand press and black powder to the web

I like it! Subversive in a sort of 'old-fashioned' sort of way. ;-)

Cartledge said...

Subversive? Perhaps it is, but more a comment on the wingers from both extremes and all those who choose to ignore history. Or perhaps worse, cannot determine between relevance and anachronism.
Both the US and Australian systems of federalism were a response to British rule. I do believe the Australian version benefited from a peaceful transition, well as peaceful as six colonies can be during various constitutional conventions.
The clear intent was to maintain a fair balance across the colonies under a federation, so that smaller colonies would not be disadvantaged.
The constitution, while clear on this, can and has been undermined by the compliance of the states, for various reasons. Some of those reflect relevance, some simply political compromise (in all the meanings of the word.)
Without launching into a full essay my current argument is against both the states and the federal government. Unless at least one state refuses to cede certain powers there is not much likelihood of a high court challenge. Individuals have challenged constitutional issues, but generally fail for lack of resources. Well, lack of resources and a stacked High Court.
Until the 1990s the electorate was fairly sensitive about issues of states rights. Sadly it now takes an education program to apprise people of the issues, and even then there isn’t much interest. I think it is the only issue, in the end. But I suspect I am a minority.