November 4

“Liberals & Power” – controversial new book

The Labor Party has now as part of its platform the removal of the Crown. But the ALP platform is not written in stone. The Platform once called for the maintenance of White Australia and the socialisation of the means of production distribution and exchange.  Ironically, the greatest leaders of the ALP have all been constitutional monarchists.

In the meantime, Australia’s other party has in recent years abandoned the strong commitment to the Crown which was one of the central principles of the Liberal Party as founded by Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

A new book seeks to look at John Howard’s government and craft a narrative for the future, “Liberals & Power”, edited by Peter van Onselen, Melbourne University Press. It is to be launched by Alan Jones AO on 7 November, 2008.

 

The book has been much in the news, mainly because the chapter attributed to the Deputy Leader and Shadow Treaurer Julie Bishop was in fact written by her chief of staff and he included parts of other works without making it clear these were quotations. He said he was too late in delivering certain foofnotes to the editor.

(Ms. Bishop recently delivered the Annual Republican Lecture of the Australian Republican Movement. This unfortunately coincided, for a Shadow Treasurer, with the meltdown of the world’s financial system. Unlike other lectures in this series the transcript is available neither on the ARM website, nor the Shadow Treasurer’s)

I was invited to contribute a chapter. The following extract contains some of my views on constitutional issues. (Apart from the defence of the Australian Crown as a central check and balance in  our constiutional system, these opinions are not necessarily those of ACM.)

….Calling for some vague and undefined republic is is pointlessly divisive….

In it I wrote the following in relation to our heritage as a nation (footnotes excluded):

“Liberals have always had a justifiable pride in who we Australians are, where we came from and the history of our nation. They have been in the forefront of resisting attempts to rewrite history and impose what Geoffrey Blainey has called the ‘black armband’ view of history. Liberals instinctively understand that the present and future generations are entitled to be educated about the story of our nation.

“Liberals also have a strong faith in our constitutional system. This was described succinctly and eloquently by Bolingbroke as ‘that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason, directed to certain fixed objects of public good, that compose the general system, according to which the community hath agreed to be governed.’

“The heart of modern constitutionalism is, as it were, a triptych. In one panel there is the rule of law, in the centre, representative democracy and on the other side, a compelling array of checks and balances, bicameralism, the Australian Crown, the courts. Those checks and balances exist to foil attempts to concentrate power unduly and to prevent serious abuses of that power.

"Menzies would undoubtedly have agreed that the essence of our constitutional heritage is well summarised in the Preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (UK). This recites the fact that the Australian people in each of the several states, ‘humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God’, had agreed to unite in ‘one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown’ and under the constitution.

“Those Liberals who wish to graft a republic onto this must understand that pronouncing themselves in favour of some vague and undefined republic is of no utility, weakens the constitutional system and is pointlessly divisive. Of course, no Liberal should ever  use republicanism either to demonstrate some “ product differentiation” from the leader, or that he or she is “in touch.”

“ Those Liberals who do genuinely wish to turn Australia into a republic must first conceive and refine a worthy model, one as effective and as secure as our present system. And then they must persuade the Australians people, nationally and in the states, to lend it not just lukewarm support, but a persuasive level of enthusiastic support. Without that, the issue will have the potential to divide the Party and for no purpose inflict serious damage upon it and upon the unity of the nation.  They would do far better to redirect their effort to matters of more immediate concern.

…federalism…


“Liberals have a long tradition of support for federalism, especially when this has been under challenge from the Labor Party. Assuming Labor’s centralist mantle, particularly to support the WorkChoices legislation, was not only disappointing, or even just a serious error. To the extent that it has established a precedent which future centralist governments can use, it is a continuing disaster. 

“The solution to the decline of the states and thus of the federation does not lie in ‘aspirational nationalism’, ‘ending the blame game’ or in ‘co-operative federalism’. The solution is to return to the original intention in the Constitution. This was that the states be endowed with those powers not specifically allocated to the Commonwealth as shared or exclusive powers. Even more importantly the states were to be directly accountable to their people for every dollar of taxpayers’ funds they spent. This might best be achieved by a convention. 

“A return to the original intention of the Constitution would bring to an end the states’ addiction, their unaccountable dependence on Canberra.  Why is that important or even relevant? Until that is achieved the states will remain analogous to the young and healthy welfare-dependent—they will be irresponsible and increasingly incompetent. “Unless and until the states become once again accountable to their electorates for the money they obtain, they will be unable to provide the services the people are entitled to expect. By increasing the federal largesse, and handing over the GST revenues, the problem has only been exacerbated. What is happening in New South Wales today is an indication of the direction of the future governance of the states.

…bill of rights, indepnedence of the public service, private property….

“Liberals should also be in the forefront in restoring the checks and balances inherent in the Westminster system, in particular in the traditional separation of powers. This means that Liberals should vigorously oppose the introduction of a bill of rights, which would effectively hand the power to legislate to unelected judges, thus corrupting the judges by politicising them.

“Liberals know that an independent non-political public service is one of the jewels of the Westminster system. They should do what they failed to do when last in office in Canberra—they should reverse rather than join in the politicisation of the top echelons of the public service.

“At the same time they should reduce judicial supervision of public service and executive decision-making. This has reached the point where too many government decisions are now being replaced by the decisions of unelected judicial officers. There is a place for review, but not as wide as it now is.

“Above all the Liberal Party should fight for the right to private property, particularly for farmers and indigenous people. Farmers should be relieved from the excessive constraints on the legitimate use of their land for allegedly environmentalist reasons designed principally to capture the voting preferences of the city-based Greens. Nor should city dwellers have their right to enjoy their property damaged by planning regulation designed to help the large developer power base of the Labor Party, including planning designed to foist higher population density on already crowded cities.

….electoral reform, and recall elections….


“One area where the federal Liberal government moved too slowly was in electoral reform. Electoral rolls should be openly accessible and available. Registration and voting are far too important not to be subject to proper verification. Polling stations should be linked by computer, and the conditions on declaration voting observed

.“It is remains difficult to reconcile compulsory voting with the Liberal tradition. As effective bicameralism mandates that the method of election in the upper house not mirror the lower, perhaps it is now appropriate to restrict preferential voting to upper houses. This would mean that in effectively choosing the government, Australian elections would more resemble those of similar countries.

“At the time of writing, New South Wales is in uproar about the appalling performance of the re-elected Labor government, presented to the electorate as a change from the Carr Labor government. If anything this exposes as untrue the claim that four-year fixed terms improve the quality of government. Australians do not need fewer elections, but they should have the right to have more elections if they see the need. In particular, they should have the right to recall their representatives.

“It is arguable that if this mechanism had been available in Australia in 1975, the Opposition would have concentrated on seeking a recall election, rather than on the divisive and damaging threat to refuse supply.  Unlike a refusal of supply, the use of the recall is difficult to challenge morally. (This is in no way a proposal to remove, amend, codify or reduce the reserve power to withdraw a prime minister’s or premier’s commission.) The attraction of the recall election is that unlike citizen-initiated referendums it is consistent with the Burkian concept that democracy under the Westminster system be representative rather than direct. 

“That said, serious consideration should be given to the trial introduction of CIR’s to balance the increasing inability of governments to perform their core functions, from the provision of infrastructure to that of law and order.     

  


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