Federalism and why we have it

Some of our regular visitors raised the question as to why the need for both Federal and State Governments, or for that matter, why have states?  Why not have just one central government?  Unknowing to these visitors was the unpublicised fact that this just happens to be one of my areas of expertise.

“Impart this knowledge onto us” they pleaded.

That’s all I needed; an invitation to ramble on.  And ramble on I do, for a fair amount of preamble is required before I get to the nitty-gritty.  I’ll need to start the talk with a few words about federalism.  You may feel the need to grab a drink and a table.  This is a long post, and I apologise for that, but I hope I’ve made it interesting.

Here we go.

Federalism is a descriptive word for a typology of government rule.  Australia, as is some other western countries, is governed under a federal system which has its own distinct characteristics, being: the agreement to federate is recorded in our Constitution; the power distribution between the Commonwealth and state governments; and the equal representation of the states.

A number of western countries are governed under a federal system, yet each system contains its own distinctiveness.  Canada, the USA, and Australia for example, have federal systems that have recognisable differences.  What though, is federalism?  Federalism is but one form of decentralised government that differs only in degree, but not in kind, from other regionalised governments.

Isolating this description into the Australian model, we have a Commonwealth Government (as the central government) and the states and territories (the regionalised governments).

However, Australian federalism – as indicated – has its own characteristics that distinguish it from other federal systems.  Three major characteristics are identified:

1.    The original agreement to federate is recorded in our Constitution.

2.    Power is distributed between the central government and the regional governments.

3.    The regions must be equally represented (which is mainly done in the Senate).

However, not written into the Constitution – presumed rather than described – is the Westminster System of responsible government.  With responsible government, ministers receive votes from the electorate; they are responsible to the electorate; and they are accountable for their public departments.

The Constitution is central to the other major characteristics of Australian federalism.  It would be easy to lose ones’ self in its pages in identifying every characteristic.  The Constitution, per se, formally sets out the rules governing Australia’s national government including the division of powers between the Commonwealth and state governments.

Should these two areas of government be autonomous and complimentary?  This is a matter of conjecture as we consider the second characteristic of Australian federalism.  The authors of Australia’s federation conceived the states as the real power in Australian politics, with the federal government charged only with those responsibilities where it was manifestly more efficient for an umbrella government to have powers.  (However, the further that the last century progressed we saw more of a drift of powers from the states to Canberra).

In theory, the scope and influence of the Federal government was intended to be limited.  The option to dissolve the colonies as political units and to remodel the structure of regional government was never seriously contemplated.  Rather, the constitutional apparatus of the colonies was transferred to the states to operate contiguously with the new central parliament and government.

The Founding Fathers who framed the Constitution were concerned about keeping the existing colonial governments intact, and ensuring that the Commonwealth government had limited powers.  The exclusive powers allocated to the central government (Part V, Section 51) included defence, overseas trade, immigration, customs and excise, issuing of currency, interstate industrial arbitration, and postal and other communications.  Whereas the states were responsible for the administration of most routine services as well as key areas of economic activity, they regulated or had potential power to control most aspects of industry, energy supply, prices, courts, prisons, police, mineral exploration and development, land use, environment, welfare services, consumer affairs, ports, water resources, some form of taxation, and most aspects of criminal, civil and commercial law.

Any residual powers not set down in the Constitution were given to the states in Section 107 – a formula to deliberately limit the power of the new central government.  Further evidence that the central government was not a sovereign government is with the powers allocated to the High Court.  The High Court had the power to disallow legislation judged incompatible with that parliament’s constitutional powers.  And in interpreting the Constitution, the High Court, in effect, defined the powers of the national and state parliaments.

The states, as I have noted, shared equal representation in the Senate.  Again, the Constitution is a source of reference: Until the Parliament otherwise provides there shall be six members from each Original State.  The Parliament may make laws increasing or diminishing the number of senators for each State, but so that equal representation of the several Original States shall be maintained and that no Original State shall have less than six members.

The Senate was originally intended to be a state’s house as a bulwark to federalism as well as being a chamber of review. The Senate objectively was to represent the interests of the states as equal partners in Federation.

If the states were still considered to be the real power of Australian politics, the leading question is: Why did the Australian colonies federate?  In a political essence Federation gave Australia a national government that spoke and acted for the country as a whole.  This overview however, does not indicate the economic or nationalistic benefits that favoured Federation, nor does it reflect the public mood of the day.  I could nominate five key reasons behind the move to Federation which addresses the above deficiencies:

1.    To facilitate intercolonial trade.

2.    To make business easier.

3.    Defence.

4.    A growing sense of nationhood.

5.    To maintain and consolidate a sense of ethnic identity.

Trade and business, by no means exactly identical, can nevertheless be discussed jointly.  Acting independently the colonies had their own economic and foreign investment policies, and freedom of trade between these economic rivals was stifled.  The form of the federation, and especially of its industrial and tariff powers, favoured more free market/low tariff policies.  The consequences, I imagine, would have been more chilling:

Without state intervention Australia would have been destined to develop rather as a poor Third World comprador economy, entirely dependent on cash crops and with a State designed only to maintain whatever measure of repression its foreign sponsors would demand.

The issue of defence was more of a logical need for a uniting voice on defending Australia.  This unity did not exist prior to Federation where the colonies could raise and deploy their own armies or navies.  The colonists had perceived neighbouring countries as a threat to their security, and believed that an invasion was never out of the question.

If security was threatened, it could be suggested that this could be one of the stirring factors behind the growing sense of nationhood.  This cannot be substantiated, although there was a leaning towards an Australian identity as opposed to being considered say, a Victorian or an inhabitant of New South Wales.  There were, however, other factors that contributed to the growing sense of nationhood.

Most of the early arrivals in Australia had come either as settlers or convicts in a time when the country as such, was a penal colony.  The State, fundamentally, was under military rule.  The first rumblings of nationhood developed under this repressive and militant sovereignty.  In short, the brutality and human degradation of the convict system destroyed the legitimacy of the old order and made new structures of government a precognition for independence.  And, perhaps more importantly, this experience focused all attention on political reform and the benefits of a reformed – but still strong – state.

Perhaps the most debated reason behind Federation was the (then) popular concept of a common policy on immigration.  The colonists, being mainly Britannic Australians, wanted it kept that way.  Australia’s geography – further from the colonist’s ‘home’ than almost any place on earth, and separated by only a narrow sea passage from the teeming millions of Asia – resulted in the development of a xenophobic, isolationist world view, in which psychological barriers were erected against near neighbours, and intervention in foreign affairs was only at the behest of Mother England.

From this I draw two conclusions: That the cornerstone in the foundation of Australia is racism; and that Federation was the opportunity to maintain white superiority.  (England was, at the time, anti-racial).  In drafting the Constitution the intention was to grant the Commonwealth power over the limited rights of immigrants, and subsequently the first act of the new Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act: better known as . . . the White Australia Policy.

So there you have it.  It was all because we didn’t like non-white people.  But now we do, yet nothing else has changed.  Maybe it is time we got rid of the State Governments.  Really, what are they good for?  In our new theatre of Federalism do they still deserve a place?

54 comments on “Federalism and why we have it

  1. I’ve never been a believer in getting rid of the States as a panacea for government efficiency, instead I advocate making the Federal/State system more efficient with a better delineation of responsibilities and funding.

    There are a few reasons I believe this, some are State based and one is Federal based.

    Through competitiveness, the States over time have engendered better investment and ways of doing things that would not occur with a single government. It works like this:

    Each State has there own way of doing A, and each has advantages and disadvantages. Every now and again a State government will bring in a reform that is so good it is in full or part adopted by the other States. Over time all the States’ systems become more or less similar but also better.

    If A were implemented nation wide by a central government and it was a flawed A, which is more likely than not, then its improvements over time are only implemented from the top down through a lumbering system. Given the history of central government bureaucracy it would be inefficient and costly. We still might end up with a good system but it would adversely effect the whole population instead of one State in getting that good system.

    States are also better micro managers than the central government, which includes managing local governments.

    Where States fail is they are bad at managing money and large social and infrastructure programs.

    States are costly in that they in large part duplicate government at a significant cost for their governments.

    On the whole the central government is good at managing money and at macro management but woeful at managing systems and terrible at micro management.

    The one example I always give and no one can refute is Defence. Having been in Defence for a long time and seeing first hand the enormous waste it engenders, it doesn’t take much to imagine if that type of bureaucratic waste was normal for all aspects of a single government run country.

    The Federal government has attempted to reform the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) many times, with Howard spending hundreds of millions on two major reforms and it was only after a third that some progress was made.

    Extrapolate that to all aspects of government, universal health, education, social services, aged care, energy, law and order etc.

    The one area where a Federal government should have overarching control is the environment. The MDB is an example of where fractured State based systems attempting to control a system that crosses State borders fails.

    In conclusion then. Yes there are major problems with our Federation including duplication and inefficiencies, yet there are also major advantages to have States, especially States that are competing with each other for investment and tourism for example.

    States are better micro managers but poor financial managers, especially for large scale projects and services.

    The Federal government is better at macro management but not great at it as Defence shows, yet all things given they are better money managers for large scale projects and services, except Defence (JORN, Collins, SeaSprite and too many others to mention).

    The wingnuts won’t agree with this but the BER is a good example of successful Federal government management of a large scale national project. The largest national infrastructure program ever rolled out with the greatest scope and it was accomplished in an incredibly short time, yet had a success rate of over 90%. Remember though the BER was macro managed at the Federal level but micro managed at the State level and though that’s where the problems occurred it was where the success came from.

    So the advantage of micro managing from a State level should not be done away with as it would not outweigh the efficiency gains in getting rid of a tier of duplicated government. In fact I contend that Canberra would substantially increase its government size on the abolishing State governments and you would still need provincial or local governments, which would probably also increase in size, so the efficiency gain might be illusory.

    Keep the States, just make the system more efficient and define the roles and responsibilities better.

  2. miglo, your last para nails it, why have the states indeed just more duplication get rid of them and we can all turn our angst to a single target the Feds regardless who is in power and finally fixed terms of 4 years. Roll on the revolution and the NBN of course

  3. I don’t believe removing the states because of efficiency in the “system”. I agree, there is going to be a level of management at about the level states exist now, even if we legally remove their existence.

    The reason I ask for the abolishment of state government is because of the inefficiencies due to politicians. Politicians at the state level have been blaming the federal government for their woes forever. When it comes to things of national interest (Marray Dariling for example), the states pander to their local interests only making things worse for everyone.

    Due to the way power has been slowly stripped from the states anyway, we need (I think) to either get rid of them or completely rewrite the rights & responsibilities of the federal & state levels of government. Either one is going to require us moving to a republic (as I cannot see there being enough momentum for changes of this level without it).

  4. The way I see it, the ideal set up for governance is for it to be just large enough in its purview to address all the matters peculiar to its citizenry.

    Councils are much more often than not far too small to deal with the issues the locals wnat dealt with. State governments are too small to deal with big resource industries or agriculture or roads or hospital policy or child welafre (or as we have seen water usage). They are certainly not well placed to do energy or environmental policy. On the other hand they may be too large to deal with purely local matters. Sydney for example may well not be the best place to consider matters west of the divide or north of Newcastle and the Hunter and politically, it’s easy for parish pump parochialists to rail at inner city elites. And look at Tasmania — do they really have enough talent to have a ministry dealing with all the traditional state functions? I’d say not. They are always going to have their hand out to the Feds and as we saw with Wilkie, that then gets called porkbarrelling.

    What we should have in place of states and local governments is regional government. We might have one called “the Murray-Darling Region”, another called Tasmania, another called “the Sydney Region”, “Melbourne & Geelong”, Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Murwillambah”, Perth & the South West etc … I haven’t done a count but you might perhaps have 30 regional governments instead of 500 councils, six state governments and 2 territories. Each of them could have subbranches to take care of the subdivisions within them of course.

    What do I think the chances are of the existing stakeholders voting themselves into oblivion are though? Not good, IMO.

  5. Fran are you advocating a Federal government oversee 30 Regional governments instead of 5 State and 2 Territory ones?

    Noting the trouble Canberra has with 5 State and 2 Territory governments I don’t like the chances of them successfully looking after 30.

    Bit by bit local councils are being forced into regional amalgamations anyway, and this will continue I’m certain.

    For mine I still fail to see the advantages of getting rid of State level governments outweighing the disadvantages, and the one of efficiency gain by getting rid of a tier doesn’t wash with me as other levels of government will increase in size and scope to match the loss of the State tier.

    An example is privatisation of government assets. You would think that by getting rid of a government asset that the size of the government would reduce in line with no longer having that asset, as it would with private industry and indeed is one of the reasons given by government to sell the asset.


    Invariably on the sale of the asset, as will happen with QR and happened with Kennett’s electricity sell offs, the size of government increases to look after the privatised asset. Kennett went one step further and gave himself and his ministers substantial pay rises on the back of the sell offs due to the “additional workload” now placed on them.

    Not knowing for certain, but I would gather that if you were to do a check of the Federal government Communications department now as compared to before they sold off Telstra and taking into account natural growth in additional communications requirements due to new technologies and expansion, the department would be relatively bigger after the Telstra sell off.

    I have no doubt that on the abolishing of State governments both Federal and Local/Regional governments would not only increase substantially in size, they would also demand more pay for the “extra workload” now placed upon them.

    Efficiency gains wiped out.

  6. Mobius:

    Fran are you advocating a Federal government oversee 30 Regional governments instead of 5 State and 2 Territory ones? Noting the trouble Canberra has with 5 State and 2 Territory governments I don’t like the chances of them successfully looking after 30.

    Ceteris paribus, the objections would be fair, but not all else is equal. The Feds would have, ex officiao, a rep on each government. The government would also have derivative authority to carry out Federal laws and regulations. In short, they would act on beghalf of the Feds. Right now, the states have sovereign power constrained only by the remit of the Federal Constitution and the legislative ambit of the Commonwealth.

    So the situation is organisationally a lot more fraught and despite the smaller number, each of these has far more power viz-a-viz the Feds.

    Having a common policy on the environment, coastal lands, water, transport and so forth would be very helpful to legislative reform. Imagine how much easier it would be to introduce common road laws and road-based charging?

  7. A great read Migs. Maybe time for a new Constitution. Our Constitution is nothing more than a legal document which allowed the federation of the colonies, there is zilch by way of inspirational.

    Re Defence, also in the minds of the Federationalists was that no state of Australia could raise their own army. Very much in their minds was the American Civil War. The US Constitution of course provides the rights of the states to raise a militia.

  8. But do we (or will we) ever have the political will to do something this big (restructuring)? Any opposition will just try to fragment the “yes” side, just like they did in the republic debate.

    My feeling is that we currently do not have any future-looking politicians – they are all short-sighted, just focusing on getting re-elected.

  9. I agree with Fran … as I stated yesterday we need to start oerating as a country – there is only 22 million of us but we duplicate costs everywhere …

    Fran mentioned road laws and charges … productivity is refined by having standards … it improves the ability to employ similarly qualified people, purchase “standard” raw materials (eg suppliers know what to supply) and manage the process across the country …

    National standards for training and assessment were only introduced in 1992 and are still undergoing national reform – one of the biggest issues we faced as a Recognised Training Organisation was State administration of a Federal system … each state applied its own level of standards and discipline (eg I was receiving advertising from Victoria for three day Diplomas from unregistered training organisations – in Queensland the legislation carried a $3000 fine for doing this) …

    The classic of course is railway standards – state based standards and systems just about crippled what should have been an efficient transport system for a country this size …

    OH&S laws are another area that has causes heartache for many – in one of my incarnations (OH&S Manager) we had to apply legislation across three state boundaries and Federal law – that’s four different laws and more particularly Regulations … and then deal with constant amendments …

    This also applies to IR laws …

    Productivity in most business is slowed because many people simply don’t understand what should be simple …

    eg the Trade Practices Act is a Federal Legislation … yet the Fair Trading laws are state … and often not the same … (do a simple search on Statutory Warranty … each state BTW!)

    Our governments need to be refined and our laws along with them …

    Its only very recently (1986) that we recanted the ability to Appeal to the Privy Council a British Court (I also believe under certain cases the Privy Council will still accept appeals???)

    A Federal Government with Federal laws administed by Regional Councils …

    We need a Republic … a revised Constitution … and Referenda for any sell off of publicly owned utilities …

  10. Oops! Migs, top post, mate!

    Off to take my dear old (88) mum to lunch … buy you a drink this evening! ;-0

  11. And this is where we come against our biggest hurdle to reform..it requires a Referendum to alter the Constitution. And we all know how successful these have been.

    I therefore tend to go with TB’s idea of step 1 being a Republic which then provides the catalyst for further reform.

  12. Having a common policy on the environment, coastal lands, water, transport and so forth would be very helpful to legislative reform. Imagine how much easier it would be to introduce common road laws and road-based charging?

    There are some areas where different laws to do the same thing, like driving on a road, don’t make a lot of sense, especially considering the mobility of everyone and the moving of freight by road across boundaries.

    Road based charging can’t be uniform though. Ideally it should be based on the damage a vehicle does to a road, the inefficiencies of the vehicle and the cost of maintaining a road, which is significantly different for geographically diverse areas and indeed from city to city and town to town. For instance each truck wheel does eight times more damage to a road than each car wheel. But what about an area that has very little truck traffic, should that local area government/province subsidise a heavy industrial area that has continuous truck movements in and around it?

    Environment centrally managed is a must but must be administered at a local level because the environment and the damage to it isn’t the same everywhere, even within one relatively small geographic area.

    But other areas are fraught with failure if a one size fits all is applied to them, so what do you do with them?

    Tourism is an example I can give. What happens with a Federally controlled tourism portfolio for all areas of Australia. They give more to North, Central and South Queensland provinces as they are the biggest draw cards but then you have 27 other provinces crying foul. But to distribute the tourism budget equally amongst all provinces is a waste of money though easier to administrate. So do you create 30 tourism areas administered by themselves and bidding for money out of the tourism budget every n years?

    I would like to see complete advantage/disadvantage lists drawn up for all areas of governments and forms of possible government and/or government combinations. All forms of possible government are already in place around the world and though some could not apply because of the size of the country, geography etc. an idea can be ascertained as to their advantages and disadvantages.

    I sill think that to reform the current Federation and more clearly delineate funding and responsibilities is the way to go. Allow Canberra worry about the big national things and allow the States to administer other areas like health and eduction under fiscal control from the Feds. Allow the States to control local/provincial governments/administrators again with oversight. Carrot and stick in both cases.

    Maybe one area that could make an improvement is for the Feds to disperse funding and administration control to the States based on State government efficiencies, and they must do so by the Feds themselves leading by example. A State government that efficiently runs their State with a smaller government gets rewarded for that, maybe even having their pollies paid higher than other States. A leagues table for States if you will.

    This is not as simple as “get rid of the States”.

  13. Mobius said:

    Road based charging can’t be uniform though. Ideally it should be based on the damage a vehicle does to a road, the inefficiencies of the vehicle and the cost of maintaining a road, which is significantly different for geographically diverse areas and indeed from city to city and town to town.

    Oh I think the charging method needs to be more complex than that. The charging needs to take account of the vehicle’s fooprint on the commons as used by a given user.

    Factors of relevance would be tare, emissions, vehicle road trauma profile, driver skill and compliance, real-time traffic density, availability of alternative public transport at use time etc.

    Thus a highly compliant and skilled person drving a light vehicle outside of the peak or shoulder along a route ill-served by public transport at the time would pay less per unit of distance than someone where all those attributes were the other way.

    Vehicles would carry transponders and biometric ID and would have their compliance with speed rules and stop signs monitored in real time with warnings and infringements given out. Real time local traffic advice could come with the package. Registration and Greenslip and fuel tax could be abolished.

    That’s something that would be best done federally.

    On tourism, why do we want a tourism budget at all? Is tourism a good thing, from an ecological perspective? I’d say not.

  14. Mobius re “Road based charging can’t be uniform though.”

    When I was a Councilor one riding had the majority of roads but the lowest rates base and therefore had had the lowest opportunity to raise their own revenue.

    However, I don’t know that we could base this on truck movements because a rural, low income area could have a large number of truck movements. The cane growing area around Murwillumbah comes to mind.

  15. You are starting to talk big brother here Fran 😉

    I don’t think that would be handled well Federally. It would be a large lumbering bureaucracy that will be attempting to micro manage down to a small local level, which inevitably will mean mistakes. Look at how many mistakes are made with a State government attempting to manage the monitoring and prosecution of speed cameras, and even then they outsource it to private companies. What is officially reported is only the tip of the iceberg as most just cop the fine that appears and never challenge it.

    Why not devolve that down to local areas with those that have the most traffic and based on the type of traffic vs time getting the appropriate amount and type of resources to monitor and collect revenue from the traffic for the upkeep of infrastructure appropriate to their area. Local areas would issue regular progress status reports (PSRs for those familiar with them) to State level and the states would tax that revenue scaled to the area. Major interstate highways remain Federal but again are monitored and administered at the local level with tax on revenue going to the Feds.

    What I’m saying is to devolve more responsibility down, not up. That is from the Feds to the States and the States to the local level.

    Things like vehicle driving licences and registration (including industrial) would be issued Federally for uniformity, but their fees collected and administered at a local level.

    Believe me if you make most things a Federal responsibility, sooner rather than later a government will come along and say they need to slash the budget or implement greater efficiencies so will roll the Federal Department of Transport into the CES so you have a one stop shop for social services and vehicle licences/registration, but they won’t increase the staffing adequately inline with this move.

    I can clearly see heading down the Federal route a bloated mistake ridden bureaucratic nightmare in the making.

    Better to improve on what we have instead of whole scale demolishing it.

  16. Mobius said:

    You are starting to talk big brother here Fran

    More big sister, IMO 😉

    There is no intrinsic right to drive on the roads. It’s a privilege given by a community to those who do it responsibly. It’s certainly not an implicit right to harm the commons or to have convenience at the expense of others.

    It would be a large lumbering bureaucracy that will be attempting to micro manage down to a small local level, which inevitably will mean mistakes.

    Oh I don’t think it need be so at all. Yes, any human system can make mistakes but the larger its purview the more space there is to build in protocols to identify errors and correct them at an early stage. Familiarity often becomes corrosive in accountability and larger systems can allow enough cultural and organisational distance between the implementers of systems and their overseers to make errors corrigible at an early stage.

    Why not devolve that down to local areas with those that have the most traffic and based on the type of traffic vs time getting the appropriate amount and type of resources to monitor and collect revenue from the traffic for the upkeep of infrastructure appropriate to their area.

    Oh I have no problem with that in principle, but clearly, one would want a system that took policy (as opposed to dividing the revenue) out of the hands of the locals, otherwise you could quite literally get highway robbery. If one could force traffic to queue on MCRs, one could get more local revenue. That’s not in anyone’s interest. Also you want drivers making rational decisions on how they use their vehicles, prompted in part by price signals and real time awareness of the driving environment. You want a culture to develop around being a compliant driver and a skilled one, and driving a less highly emitting vehicle and perhaps around car-pooling, trip consolidation and selective resort to public transport, which such revenue could fund.

    I think we’ve seen plenty enough of why state governments simply aren’t a good fit for most of what we want them to do. My strongest recollections are from the 1970s onwards and as far as I can tell, winning government in NSW has been a contest beteen real estate developers, extractive industry and the farm lobby with the matter decided by political auctions over who was tougher on crime and drugs. Lately, hotels and clubs have nudged their way into the mix.

    In the meantime health, education, child services and transport were brutally neglected, unless one can call building more motorways a transport policy. The aptly named ‘Carr government’ embodied all the worst features of this arrangement and passed on to Iemma and his harpies. Now it seems that several iterations later the ALP heally is headed for the abyss and we will get Greiner V1.1 aka O’Farrell, running on the apparently compelling claim that he is not the ALP. Anyone who is not happy that the ALP and the Libs are the same repulsive crowd can err please themself.

    How cool is that?

    Not very. I’d abolish them right now if I could.

  17. Fran you rightly have pointed out the very flawed NSW governments, and you are absolutely right that Labor or Liberal or Nationals they have all been as bad with us poor NSW voters (me only in the last decade) having always to chose between the lesser of two very bad evils. Labor haven’t been in power for so long because the previous Liberals were a great State government. By the way I believe Carr began very well and his first term was punctuated by good reforms and rebuilding what the previous Liberals had destroyed, but like all NSW State governments he began answering to the developers instead of the people.

    My point in all this is that the terrible NSW State government only effects NSW, the previously bad Victorian State Labor governments only effected Victoria and Joe Belke Peterson only screwed Queensland.

    Now put in place a bad Federal government equivalent to the NSW State one, like one would be under Abbott, but with no State governments in place to diversify the political parties’ rule, just everything run and controlled Federally, and now with the developers, clubs, big business etc having the ear and control of the National government with no States’ buffers in place…..

    Do I need say anymore?

  18. Mobius

    My point in all this is that the terrible NSW State government only effects affects NSW, the previously bad Victorian State Labor governments only effected affected Victoria and Joe Belke Peterson only screwed Queensland.


    What do you get whan all six states and one of the two territories have bad governments, which is something we have pretty much always had? Something worse than one Federal government? I don’t think so. At least the Feds aren’t so beholden to corrupt local interests.

    Yes, with state government you would get a more diverse set of incompetent and corrupt regimes (assuming one thinks that is good) but it is worth noting that sooner or later that has to infect federal governance. Does anyone think NSW labor isn’t hurting the Feds right now? The Macquarie St feeding trough is where they learn their trade.

    Of course, I favour a whole new system for candidate selection (sortition) which would largely sideline the parties and ensure that the feds were in the end a lot more like the populace and not career politicians. I’d also favour direct democracy as a means of devising and revising national plans. I’d like sortition for our regional governments too.

    That takes us a long way from Federalism however so I will put that to one side.

  19. Another school teacher. Effects = a consequence. Affects = to have an effect upon.

    Either will do..no grammar police on this blog 😉

    Being a practical sort of person, theories are excellent but how to put it into practice when the first hurdle is a Referrendum.

  20. Thnx Migs for the informative & insightful post. As are the comments.

    I like the idea of preservin’ the states primarily because I think they can act as sanctuaries, comfort zones, partial shields for those unhappy with a federal government…and they provide opportunities by way of diverse service management, laws & geo-political specific policies for people to escape change of government, bad policy, laws and such that occur in their home state…for instance, NSW was renowned for bein’ more gay friendly than Tasmania, QLD & the federal government for quite some time.

    And as Mobius aptly puts it: Each State has their own way of doing A, and each has advantages and disadvantages. Every now and again a State government will bring in a reform that is so good it is in full or part adopted by the other States.

    Frankly, the idea of a possible conservative government in the future, bein’ driven by Hanson-like policies based on reaction to a catastrophic terrorist event, havin’ almost unhindered power in those initial media frenzied years due to the states bein’ abolished and the bulk of their responsibilities transferred earlier to said federal government, well, it’s simply frightenin’. The court system could take yonks to sort any injustices.

    Havin’ observed firsthand distraught & financially strapped educators gratefully takin’ up positions here in QLD, findin’ sanctuary, after school closures by the Victorian Kennett govt’s slash & burn activities, I began to realise the benefits of diverse states.

    Furthermore, it was the efforts of Labor state governments that ensured a wide section of the workin’ populace were provided w/ financial security & growin’ wages when the Howard government was shiftin’ power to employers and businesses relyin’ on 457 visa workers and dodgy pay in order to profit.

    The idea of regional governments has merit…but the complexities involved w/ such a power restructure seems almost insurmountable considerin’ the many reform issues already on government plates.


  21. If anyone wants to read a balanced and well thought out comment, then go no further than Mobius at 7.25am.

    Clearly things which cross state borders such as environmental concerns should be Federal. The prime example of course being the upstreamers re the MDB and stuff the downstreamers.

    Yes exactly Nas’. To change things would require a Referrendum to basically abandon the Constitution and the Federation of the States. I cannot see this happening. I cannot see any government putting this up as a proposition and even if they did I cannot see the Australian people voting for it.

    Therefore, step 1 as per TB is a Republic and as a consequence a New Constitution for Australia.

  22. Min said:

    Another school teacher. Effects = a consequence. Affects = to have an effect upon. Either will do..no grammar police on this blog

    Put it down to years of using the red pen … 😉

    effects is usually a noun as you put it above, but it can also be a verb when it means to bring about. e.g He effected a change in the policy towards state wards

    I meant no disrespect to Mobius of course …

  23. Drink as promised, Migs, what’s yer choice?

    *clink* BTW two guesses what’s I’m currently enjoying … 😉

  24. One JB for my mate over here please, Min!

    (You’ve actually got Min working behind the bar, Migs, bloody hell!)

    … and no, I didn’t notice the special (and I usually check the “subheading when I come in!) … so where’s Bacchus?

    … Min, and a Special WT for me, please!

  25. I am going to affect the grammarian here. There are a range of uses of both ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ as noun and verb. The effect of the discussion above has been to greatly affect me, since it reminded me of many ineffective attempts to affect the understanding of students. I need time to recover from the effects of this. I will return and contribute to the discussion at an appropriate time, hopefully to some effect when it will not affect the course of the discussion.

  26. I’m here TB – just really enjoying the intelligent, thought provoking debate on this thread at the moment – a credit to all involved.

    I think a couple of WT, Tullamore Dew, or rough red days are in order atm – let the system recover a little. I’ll have a green tea with a little ginger if you’ve got it…

  27. I’ll have a green tea with a little ginger if you’ve got it…

    B-B-B-Bacchus … green tea! Green! I had a pizza for lunch and asked the waitress if she could remove the parsley growing in the middle of it! She laughed … I was serious … green!

    OK, barperson – gre-e-e-n tea with alittle ginger for my friend … shakes head … (I like ginger though – very “calming” …)

  28. Why thank you, Bacchus. And yes, we do pride ourselves on intellectual debate. You’ll notice that even TB added to it. 😉

    A dash of brandy in your green tea, sir?

  29. The practical exclusion of Aboriginal people in the Constitution deserves a mention. In the late 19th century, particularly, considerations by white Australians of Aboriginal welfare were dominated by the ‘doomed race’ theory. Since colonisation, observations of declining Aboriginal numbers, combined with the evolutionary theory, led white Australians to the conclusion that nothing could be done to save the Aborigines from extinction. Furthermore, their demise was merely in accordance with the unchallengeable laws of nature. Such ideas, supported as they were by scientific certainties, found ready acceptance in a society founded upon the dispossession of the Aborigines and loudly proclaimed the dedication to a white Australia.

    Accordingly, the Australian Constitution was drawn up at a high point of racism when there was mounting pressure for the adoption of a policy that would exclude Aborigines (and non-Europeans). In this environment, it is hardly surprising that Aboriginal people were paid very little attention by the drafters of the Constitution and in fact were effectively excluded from the merging nation. The Constitution had only two minor exclusionary references to Aboriginal people. These references were at section 51 (xxvi) and section 127. Section 51 listed the powers of the Commonwealth and, at subsection xxvi, included a power with respect to the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. The second reference to Aboriginal people was at section 127 and stated that: In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

    Of course, that all changed with the 1967 Referendum.

  30. Migs, my understand is that it all went back to Terra Nullius, a land belonging to ‘no one’. For this reason Aboriginal peoples were not counted in the census..one cannot count ‘no one’ as part of the population. For this same reason there was little mention of the Aboriginal population in the Constitution, they were the invisible people and only to be dealt with if ‘special laws’ were required s51(xxvi).

    As far as the supposed demise of the Aboriginal people, this was of course based on Darwinianism and the survival of the fittest. The white supremists of course interpreted this to mean that ‘inferior races’ were doomed. In fact it was argued that it was ‘against nature’ to encourage survival of an inferior race.

  31. That’s exactly how it was, Min. The colonists had selected Aborigines for extinction, however the laws of nature and survival had not.

  32. Nasking hinted at another reason for the States remaining a government tier and that is a place of comfort for those who do not like the Federal government or want to put brakes on the Federal government to go to.

    It is not by accident that voters significantly vote differently in State elections than they do in Federal elections, and indeed as they used to in the Senate until the Dems self destructed.

    Take away the States and the Senate as well, which is also being advocated, and you will have an awful lot of very unhappy people out there who will be mightily pissed off as they struggle to vote for a choice between very bad and very bad.

    I dislike internet grammar and spelling nazis. Let the message go through, don’t break it by pointing out mistakes, most of which are made in the haste of getting a reply out or attempting to type on phones, netbooks or small laptop keyboards.

    If the message ain’t broke don’t point out the mistakes that don’t alter the message..

  33. Mobius, plus pointing out spelling and grammatical errors is a deterrent for people where English isn’t their first language and for people with learning disabilities. Silly to consider these people, I think not.

    What I saw in my time as a Shire Councilor was that there was often one hell of a lot of pressure at a local level to pass this or that inappropriate subdivision. Koalas? Lyrebirds? Who cares, we have a 1,000 dwelling subdivision to try to get through Council. No made roads, no water, no sewerage? Council is being obstructionist!

    Application refused. We’ll take it to the AAT to fight Council costing a tens of thousands of rate payers $s.

    I’m not certain that I have a solution to this, but it’s certainly not handing everything over to local government. It’s bad enough that we have state boundaries on issues, but imagine if we were like the US of A where we would have local government boundaries.

  34. Mobius

    On the spelling/grammar nazi thing. I honestly meant no disrespect. For me it’s like seeing the top put back on the toothpaste, the fridge door closed, the tap turned off and not dripping, lights in empty rooms extinguished. It’s me not you. I don’t attack people for making typos/spellos because to my chragrin, I also make them from time to time. I’d love an edit function to clear them up. At the same time, there’s no harm in alerting people to what is orthodox syntax.

    I dislike the use of the term “nazi” in this context because ity simultaneously trivialises fascism and implies that those who like tidiness in text are brutal and oppressive. Given that I don’t seek make others feel inferior I plead innocent to that.

    Min’s point on NESB/LOTE is well taken and if I close edited someone’s post that might be fair comment, but in my experience a gentle suggestion or two isn’t offensive.

    On the substantive issue:

    I just don’t see that there is enough difference between the states and the commonwealth to make the check on the malign exercise of Federal power meaningful, or at any rate progressive. Look at how the Queensland and NSW state governments worked under Whitlam — essentially it was Lewis and Bjelke-Peterson who torpedoed the Whitlam government by abuse of the casual vacancy system and turned out an elected government.

    Thinking about it the Dunstan governments in SA from 1970-79 might have been the major exception to this rule and even they overlapped with the Whitlam period. In Tasmania now we probably have a slightly more progressive government than federally but that is the high tide.

    In the period 1995-2007 NSW had regimes that while nominally ALP were led by folks scarcely to the left of Howard on most issues.

    So for me, it’s not such a big deal and it may even be the case that removing the states might cause people to think twice about whom they entrust Federal government to.

  35. “Take away the States and the Senate as well, which is also being advocated, and you will have an awful lot of very unhappy people out there who will be mightily pissed off as they struggle to vote for a choice between very bad and very bad.”

    I couldn’t agree more Mobius.

    I noticed Abbott said last night at the annual Alfred Deakin lecture :

    ”School principals accountable to parent bodies would be less susceptible to educational fads.”

    If memory serves me correctly, it was oft the anally retentive, religious whiners, grumpy at the drop of a hat, chip on their shoulder relatin’ to teachers…& control freak parents that used to be heard most in the schools I worked in…gawd forbid!

    However, I was fortunate to get to know some well-rounded, supportive parents & guardians. But often their voices were drowned out by the forever grumpy.

    Imagin’ bringin’ small town politics, gossipin’ & vendettas to city schools.

    Another crap idea from Abbott.


  36. Wasn’t the original by Jeanie C Riley or somthing like that? Couldn’t understand how it reached number 2 or 3 on the Adelaide Top 40 in 1968. By memory Indian Lake by the Cowsills was number 1 at the time.

  37. Nas @ 3.10 re “it was oft the anally retentive, religious whiners, grumpy at the drop of a hat, chip on their shoulder relatin’ to teachers…& control freak parents..”

    Let me guess, you’ve had to deal with P&Cs 😀

    25 meetings later, it was eventually concluded that a light avocado green was a better color for the repainting of the school hall rather than the pinkish peach.

    And heaven help us if there was a suggestion of changing the school uniform.

  38. Well Fran, perhaps it could be Tone’s new theme song going into the next election, just like little Johhnie used Unchain my Heart re the GST. 😉

  39. “Let me guess, you’ve had to deal with P&Cs”

    LOL Min. Oh yeaaa.

    Still, I dealt w/ a beaut lot at one inner-city school that I taught in for a year, as temporary film & TV coordinator…they gave me a ripper letter of recommendation…thought I was brill w/ the kids.

    But…once I hit the country…well, guess I was too radical & opinionated. I can remember one parent goin’ ballistic over the songs played at a dance I organised for the students. All huff & puff & blow yer dance down…”them songs ain’t Christian!!!…TOO LOUD, TOO LOUD!!!”

    When the parents & the local church puritan combine to give ya a hard time…it gets kinda irritatin’. ‘specially when they use the local rag…and do the goss bit. Kinda reminds me of the Murdoch papers or Alan Jones. LOL Blaahhh, blaaah, blaaah. This land is our land…off our property wide-thinkin’ sinner!!! We demand you keep things narrow!!!


  40. “just really enjoying the intelligent, thought provoking debate on this thread at the moment – a credit to all involved.”

    Gracias Bacchus. And we always enjoy readin’ yer contributions.

    Iced green tea w/ ginger comin’ up:


  41. “Wasn’t the original by Jeanie C Riley or something like that?”

    Migs, I think she sang a Tom T. Hall original.

    JEANNIE C. RILEY – Harper Valley P.T.A.

  42. Nas’..best school Burnley Primary. 3/4 of the class were non-English speakers and so classes were a challenge. The kids were brilliant, many were latchkey and in charge of younger siblings while their parents worked shift.

    Transferred to a school in a ‘superior’ socio-economic area…parents were lawyers, accountants, bankers. The kids were a pain in the derriere, no imagination and saracastic they expected that a teacher’s job was to entertain them.

    I left face to face teaching after this but returned later as an ed psych.

  43. Min, Migs & others, ya might recognise this from the Deja Vu lp:

    Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Teach Your Children

  44. Apt song Nas.

    But this:

    “just really enjoying the intelligent, thought provoking debate on this thread at the moment – a credit to all involved.”

    Gracias Bacchus. And we always enjoy readin’ yer contributions.

    I reckon he was referring to me. 😛

  45. Bloody hell! Two versions of the same awful song on one thread! Whew!

    Re: P&C’s

    Some of us parents know a bit about learning and the process … and teachers and governments get their knickers in a bit of a knot when questioned/challenged on their techniques …

    … one of my memorable nights as a parent was challenging state government reps at high school of my two children … about the “allocation” of TE (now OP) scores to kids in high school … based on the bell theory, NOT, competency … when asked what would happen if theoretically all the children got 100% (another silly way of judgment – certainly not assessment of skills/knowledge) – we were told that only 10% of graduands would recieve a TE of 1 … the rest of the “scores” would be divvied out …

    … another statement oft expounded by teachers is that it is not their role to prepare children for a workplace role in society … and I agree, but if they can’t read or write or do simple maths then those children have a problem everywhere … one of the reasons that teachers hate competency based learning … it puts them in the spotlight … as facilitators … it would however, sift the wheat from the chaff … try getting your child “held” back a year and see how the “production line” reacts …

    … my business mentor used to pose this question … “if we all got 100% would that make us all average” …

    … reading some of the posts above, I expect a reply, however, I apologise now because I shall be otherwise engaged, to reply to replies, until late Sunday …

    Migs, I apologise to you for “hi-jacking” your thread but the argument re P&C’s seemed a little lop sided from at least three ex(?) teachers …

  46. Well we all have a different lean on things, TB. We all speak from experience, just that everybody’s experiences are different.

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