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The Frozen Continent v II

By Scott Dunmore
Created 17/07/2010 - 13:43

The Frozen Continent v II
by Scott Dunmore [0]

My first blog ever was a damp squib; deservedly so given the amount of effort I put into it. I've decided to give it another go for the reasons that there's a growing awareness of the subject and that next to climate change and sustainable population this is the most important issue facing us.

Somewhere buried in all the paperwork I've accumulated over the past seven years is a proposal of two alternative routes of a bypass of our town commissioned ten years ago or so. No bypass yet and none in the foreseeable future. I can guarantee that the proposal would have cost the tax payers of NSW a considerable amount of money. Hardly rivetting stuff I know but there in microcosm is the profligate and disgraceful waste of money typical of all state governments.

Studies are commissioned and ignored; infrastucture projects planned and abandoned. The single thing holding us back is our constitution and federation. Tony Blair mentioned it some years ago, pointing out that the pool of capable politicians was not sufficiently large to adequately serve two levels of government. As a result we're lumbered with venal self-serving mediocrity and that's being kind.

I'm not alone in thinking this, the situation has been commented on many times over the years, back in 1967 lawyer Geoffrey Sawer coined the term "The Frozen Continent" and here's [1]another example. worth looking at for Pryor's ever brilliant cartoon. Please read George William's essay, it gives much insight and information but falls short on delivering a strategy and model for constitutional change. What I propose to do here is provide a rough model and strategy and throw both up for debate.

The Model

"The answer is not to abolish the Australian states. That would be unrealistic and bad policy. Few local problems can be solved by unilateral action from Canberra. At least one lower tier of government is needed to help develop regional solutions and deliver services."

I agree with the latter but the former puts me in two minds. My preference would be to abolish the states but it is impractical per se so the next best thing is for the states to be devolved into territories with limited powers only and only to preserve parochial identity. Where would we be for instance without "State of Origin"? (Blank stares from all outside NSW and Qld but you get my drift.)

"While Australia’s federal system of government is broken, the answer is to fix that system, not to jettison it."

There's the rub. Williams makes the interesting point that the constitution has been moulded by acts of parliament not referenda. This might be drawing a long bow but maybe for instance the basket case of water management in this country could be addressed by an act of parliament declaring that for the purposes of interpreting the constitution, water be declared an essential or something rather than a resource. With regard to the development of regional solutions I suggest unelected bodies staffed by credentialled beauro/technocrats controlling areas a lot larger than the current shires. Politics has no place in local government. They should be decentralised to make better use of resources. In my part of the world we have a "Midwest Regional Council" based in Moree, well outside our shire but have a prescence here. I don't know where it fits into the scheme of things but can see it's existence is step in the right direction.

The strategy

The first hurdle to overcome is public interest. The vested interest of state incumbents can easily be circumvented. It's going to be a long slow process and best served in my opinion by the formulation of a pressure group, preferably in the form of a single issue party. Senate only but given the nature of our political system how effective? Look at the concessions Fielding and Haradine have exerted and the public exposure they've received. Ditto Bob Brown.

The Hurdles

Public apathy I've addressed.

"Problems of legitimacy are a reason why federal systems evolved: people in Western Australian were the last to accept federation and, at a time of unprecedented economic success, are as unlikely to ever accept rule by a single government in Canberra."

Western Australia for mine can be invited to like it or lump it. The state is not mentioned in the constitution. It can sucede, maybe to become part of a confederacy with our neighbours to the south east and north with a common market, foreign policy and defence.

Over to you.

Where's Malcolm B(loody) Duncan when you need him?

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