April 27

Federalism: an important interview

The maintenance of the Federation is crucial to the good governance of this nation. Unfortunately, it is a subject about which there is only a superficial understanding. And yet  the Founding Fathers  incorporated this as a core feature of our constitutional system, one which was approved by the people.  Without it there would have been no  Commonwealth of Australia.

In our recent column on Federation, “Let us hear from the defenders of federalism,” 15 April 2010  we referred to the Federation Project at Griffith University and to the fascinating results of  its second  Constitutional Values Survey undertaken by Newspoll.

We noted that the academic in charge of this project, Professor AJ Brown had a thoughtful piece on the survey in The Australian, 10/4, “Fix the broken wheel of state and give the boot to the knee-jerk reaction”.  

There was also a news report by Mike Steketee in The Australian, (10/4) “Government should be on the level”.

  Now the nation's most influential broadcaster, Alan Jones has interviewed Professor Brown.

 To hear this follow this link .



…state fiscal sovereignty….




In “Federalism is a dead idea. So what now?” ( The Australian 24/4) Mike Steketee points to the fact that the States raise only about one quarter of what they spend.  

This goes against the fundamental principles of federalism as established by the American Founding Fathers from whom we took the concept for our crowned republic.

And now the Prime Minister, Mr. Rudd, has demonstrated what everyone always knew.

The GST is a Commonwealth tax – however extraordinarily generous Mr. Howard was to the ungrateful State governments.

The Queensland Labor Treasurer Andrew Fraser recognizes this and proposes the GST be replaced by a fixed proportion of income tax, over which the States can claim shared constitutional responsibility.

But unless and until the States have an exclusive growth tax, identifiable by the taxpayers clearly as a State tax, State governments cannot perform well as the Constitution intended.

As Mr Steketee says, if you are spending someone else's money, you are likely to be less careful, particularly if you can blame the commonwealth for not providing enough. Because of High Court rulings this would require a constitutional amendment.

…a convention?…

This could only be achieved through broad agreement, perhaps through a convention on the 1998 model, but sitting longer.

That model was half elected, but this time postal voting should not be used. The  remainder came from  the leaders of the nine Parliaments together with certain eminent persons. There were also some delegates chosen from otherwise underrepresented groups, for example, youth and indigenous.  

Such a convention could only be successful if the nominated component were chosen fairly as John Howard did in 1998, not by the sort of infantile gerrymander which so marred the 2020 Summit.  




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