Abolish State Governments!

by Peter Consandine

First published 1998 – Amended and Republished 2007
Amended and Republished 2012 *Adapted from work on a similar topic by  Rodney Hall

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CONTENTS

Six questions on federation

How does federation work?
But isn’t this our British heritage?
How was federation decided upon?
Did everyone agree that federation would be best?
When were the present boundaries drawn?
Is it simpler to patch up the system we’ve got?

Six questions on abolishing the State governments

What’s wrong with federation?
How much does the wastage cost us?
How is this $30 billion loss calculated?
Would these savings result in loss of jobs?
But if something’s not broken, why fix it?
Why put a reliable, stable system at risk?

Six questions on how a different system might work

Would everything be centralised in Canberra?
Is a two-tier system operating anywhere else in the world?
Why would regional governments be preferable?
Who gains from keeping the present system?
Who suffers from keeping the present system?
Is the problem too difficult to fix?

Six questions on the Constitution* [the Australian Constitution]

What does the Constitution say?
Do we need a new Constitution altogether?
What should a new Constitution say?
What would the ordinary citizen gain?
How would abolishing the State governments affect tax?
Why should voting be compulsory?

Six questions on practicalities

Does the head of state have ultimate power in a Republic?
How important is it to supplant the queen?
Why not simply go along with the minimum change plan?
Why now and not later?
Isn’t there an argument for interstate competitiveness?
How hard is it for us to imagine our future?

Six questions on the future

Would such a big change cut us off from our history?
What need is there for better planning structures?
How would the abolition of the State governments affect television, sport and the arts?
How would the change affect our national identity?
Would Australia be better equipped for the future?
Why is such a change dismissed as impossible?

Introduction

This paper is about our right to choose our own future. An Australian Republic is among the greatest possibilities of a lifetime. We have the good fortune to live in a nation still being forged from a mix of cultures. What could be more exciting than to be part of a nation in the remaking?

First we need to know what choices are open to us.

The mixture now includes Aboriginal, Euro pean, Asian, American and African cultures. An estimated 160 languages are now spoken here. Australia is no longer the same as it was 107 years ago when our forefathers chose feder ation as the means of gaining independence and setting us on the present track.

Of course we could remain as we are – a monarchy, with our head of state living half a world away. Another possibility is to become a Republic. If we decide a Republic is what we want, nothing can stop us. In the same way noth ing can stop us making up our own minds what kind of Republic should it be?

Not all Republics are the same, any more than all monarchies are the same. To take a few examples: there are big differences between the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Republic and the newest Republic – that of Mauritius. So our next step would be to compare the choices, come up with our own ideas, and then make a decision. A Federal Repub lic is only one of the available options.

In this paper I am putting forward the view that feder ation is a thing of the past. It has served its purpose adequately enough. If we are to have a Republic in the future, while we are at it we should take the opportunity of replacing the federal system with something simpler, less costly and more effective.

We owe it to ourselves to understand the choices open to us and to care about our country. It won’t do us much good to brush the issue aside and say it is all too hard. This would be simply giv ing away our future without lifting a finger. And if the change presents difficulties now, one can only guess how much more difficult it will be for our children or grandchildren to fix if we do nothing.

In this new century, talk of a Republic is often in the news. The Sydney Olympic Games put Australia at the cen tre of world attention. Immediately after this great event, in Jan uary 2001, we marked the centenary of federation.

Despite the frequent talk about whether or not we should support a Republic, there has been hardly any real debate about the range of options we might choose from. Yet options must be presented. How can the public be in a position to decide? As a con tribution to the democratic debate, this paper sets out a number of questions and suggested answers.

Many Republican supporters suggest we cam paign for one change only. And then, if we want other reforms to our Constitution, gradually add them later. By this means, they suggest, we can finally work our way towards a new Australia by stages – beginning with an Australian head of state to replace the Queen. Their suggestion is that this Australian head of state will preside over a system as near as possible to the one we have now: a fed eration, with state premiers and state governors, as well as a prime minister and a president. Thus, a minimalist model.

In my opinion this is likely to leave us with a half-baked compromise. But let’s be clear that even this single change cannot be achieved with out changing the Constitution. And some fifteen or sixteen clauses would have to be amended just for this one item. The Constitution itself would need to be amended (albeit slightly) in 69 places just to achieve the very minimalist model for a Republic.

My point is: if one item can be changed, so can others. So can the whole lot. In the long run it might even be simpler to change everything. Piece meal alterations are notorious for giving rise to a chain reaction of problems. The number of clauses affected is not important in itself.

But the mere thought of touching the Constitu tion is enough to throw some people into a panic. They treat it like a sacred document, though mostly they have never read it and probably have little idea what a drab document it is. Unlike the American Constitution, which makes important statements of national values, ours has none. Nor does it promise equality of opportunity and freedom for citizens – let alone acknowledge the Aboriginal groupings that were here long before modern Australia was established.

It is an Act of the UK government. Its full title is: The British Colony of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. Its purpose was to unite the six separate colonies. But whether it can be said to have established an independent nation is not clear because the Constitution does not deal with any change of sovereignty: ultimate power remains with the Queen (Queen Victoria!).

I believe we deserve something better. And we owe our children something better. ALL Prime Ministers talk about ‘realising our potential in the 21st century’. Well, let’s put a few more alternatives onto the national agenda.

Governments are setting up Inquiries all the time. So what about an Inquiry into government itself? An Inquiry by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)? What about demanding a few answers? Why are colossal amounts of tax money spent on propping up a Federal system which is never called on to justify itself?

While my own view is that we should become a Republic, I also believe in abolishing the State governments while we are at it. This is where I differ from the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) whose argument appears to be that any attempt at such a major reform would be too complex for the public to understand, leading to a situation where the case would be lost altogether.

So far, this timid approach with its sole objec tive of replacing the Queen as head of state, has failed to set fire to the public imagination. And unless there is a great deal more interest generated in the near future the entire Republican cause is likely to collapse.

But who says a bigger agenda is too complex for the public? What evidence is there that we are incapable of moulding our own future? In 1900/01 we did it and it wasn’t too much to handle then. Why should it be beyond us now? Why should we, the Australian people, accept defeat before we have even begun to fight? Let’s deny that pes simism. Let’s take an optimistic view.

I am certainly not raising these issues in order to thwart the Republic. Quite the reverse!  I believe the change to a Republic is our best chance of fix ing what is, in fact, a constitutional mess. Indeed, I am inclined to argue that the chance to fix the mess (which would also save the huge cost of governmental duplication) is the most compelling reason for having a Republic.

But Australia is not the federal government’s coun try. It is our country. And if we decide to exchange one form of governance for another, then let’s do it. We were always being told we would have become a mature nation during the past century before we could viably become a Republic. Well, now’s our chance to prove it in this comparatively new century.

How does federation work?

  • In 1901 our Federal Government was estab lished. Six separate British colonies became six Australian States. It was a world very dif ferent from ours; a world believing in a British Australia, in white supremacy. In those days Asia was seen as a threat. And the Aborigines were treated as scarcely human. If we take a new decision we will take it in a context of effective multiculturalism, with Asia as our trading zone, and Aboriginal rights as a basic issue.
  • The decisions taken in 1900/01 on how to govern Aus tralia split the powers and divided them between the federal parliament on one hand, and six State parliaments on the other. For example, foreign affairs, defence and taxa tion were to be federal responsibilities – education and health remained with the States. A High Court was set up over and above the State Supreme courts.
  • The result is that we have three levels of gov ernance: the parliament in Canberra, State parliaments in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth (and Territory Assemblies in Darwin and Canberra), plus some 600 local/municipal governments [which includes shire coun cils, city councils, town councils and fifty-plus land councils].
  • At the apex of this top-heavy structure, the federal government is made shaky by another legacy of the colonial days: The Senate. Why shaky? Because under our system The Senate is the States’ house and each State has a guar anteed number of seats: twelve (the two Territories have two each). So Tasmania, for example, has 12 Senators for a population of approximately 511,000 whereas Victoria has 12 Senators for a population of approximately 5.53 million and New South Wales has 12 Senators for a population of approximately 7.21 million. [*2011 published Census data]
  • The result is that a Tasmanian vote is 11 times more valuable than a Victorian’s vote and a whopping 14 times more valuable than a New South Welshman’s vote.

But isn’t this our British heritage?

  • Yes. Between 1788 and 1901 Australia devel oped under British government control. We were a number of colonies. As such we were valuable to the Empire.
  • The British built Sydney so they would have a port in the Far East, which they needed because the biggest profits of the day were made in the tea  and spice trades. With essential help from free convict labour (the main reason why the convicts were sent) the colonists took over the land and supplied London with valu able products and resources: wool, whale oil and timber – and later wheat, coal and gold.
  • Australia, as a land, was exploited by the Empire. So were the convicts. That is how Empires work. British Imperialism saddled us with many problems – starting with the ongoing problems of a dispossessed people and a steadily polluted environment. By comparison, having the monarch as head of state is, in some respects, a relatively minor issue.
  • Then Australian lives were needlessly lost in wars we should never have taken part in: the Crimean War, the Boer War, the First World War – all of them British wars and of no direct concern to an independent Australia.
  • In each case we sent men to fight on the other side of the world. And we sent women to nurse them. Tens of thousands died. The fact that many died heroically is a separate issue.
  • Our colonial behaviour was never more painfully clear than on 22 October 1920, when the British Parliament presented us with a bill for war debts amounting to £43.6 mil lion sterling – and we paid! So, having sent our troops to be sacrificed on their behalf, we then had to fork out money for having involved ourselves! This debt was on top of £364 million sterling already spent on the war. We paid without a murmur. Who says the system was working for us then?
  • And who would say it has ever worked for the Aborigines? Every attempt at redressing (whether by a treaty or land rights legisla tion) the near-genocide wreaked by the British invasion of 1788 has been bungled.

How was Federation decided upon?

  • The discussions lasted for 50 years. The first breakthrough came in England in 1849 when a committee of the British parliament recommended that one of the governors of the separate Aus tralian colonies should hold the overriding position of Governor-General of Australia.
  • This same committee went on to say: ‘We think he should be authorised to convene a body called the General Assembly of Australia.’
  • That was the beginning of the establishment of a Federal government. But it took many years before becoming law (British law, of course) in 1885.
  • A further five years later Sir Henry Parkes, the then Premier of New South Wales, held an informal meeting of leaders from right around the country. They gathered in Melbourne. And then in 1891, at yet another meeting, Federation was decided upon.
  • The very first condition of agreement stated the heart of the matter – and the origin of what has become a problem. It said that a Federation would be set up with the powers and privileges and territorial rights of the existing separate colonies remaining intact, apart from whatever items they might eventually agree to surrender to the proposed national government.
  • So, instead of a beginning with Australia (as a single country with a central government) passing some of its powers down to the States, it was the other way around. The States called the shots and they controlled what powers they were willing to surrender to the Federal government. It is still the case that some States seem more comfortable with alle giance to the Queen than to Canberra.

Did everyone agree that Federation would be best?

  • No, by no means. There was a lot of argument.
  • George Reid (who later became Prime Minis ter) and his followers put free trade ahead of federation. The Labour Party (as it was then spelt) put issues of social equality before fed eration. The new Premier of New South Wales, who took over when Sir Henry Parkes retired in 1891, was not even interested in the idea.
  • .
  • Many critics of Federation changed their minds once the decision was taken to propose an upper house – a Senate – in which each State would have equal representation, giving the smaller States a huge amount of power. So at first, of course, it had a hostile reception in New South Wales and Victoria. The issues were never simple, let alone inevitable. Opponents fought each other to the very last.
  • Eventually the issue of Federation was put to a popular vote. In 1898 a referendum was held in all colonies other than Queensland and Western Australia. Two-thirds of voters said yes. One-third said no. It was a clear major ity, though by no means unanimous (and it should be noted that although women had the vote in South Australia, they were excluded in all the other colonies at this time – so, essentially, the men decided).

Similar results showed in the final referen dum the following year (1899):

NSW 107,420 Yes    Vic 152,653 Yes   SA 65,990  Yes
82,741 No             9,805  No        17,053  No

Tas  13,437 Yes      Qld 38,488 Yes
791 No            30,996  No

No referendum was held in Western Aus tralia in either year. Western Australia joined the Federation at the last minute.

When were the present boundaries drawn?

  • At first New South Wales included the whole eastern half of the continent, plus New Zealand. Then Van Dieman’s Land was given separate status, as Tasmania, in 1825. West ern Australia became the next separate colony in 1829. South Australia in 1836. In 1851 New Zealand was granted separate status and that same year Victoria was established.
  • The lines drawn between the mainland colonies were a solution to the issue of where one colony’s power would end and another colony’s power would begin. The chosen boundary between Victoria and New South Wales commits the most troublesome of errors, dividing the Murray River down the middle. Who has rights over what?
  • It was not until 1859 that Queensland became a separate colony. As late as September 1997 the border with New South Wales had to be adjusted a few metres, in Queensland’s favour, to rectify an old surveyors’ error. We can only hope the expense of this meaningless exercise was kept to a minimum. Even though the division between Victoria and South Aus tralia, decided in 1861, is a straight line (and therefore absolutely arbitrary) the Murray is again a problem because the South Australian administration downstream only gets what water the Victorian administration allows to flow through. Rivers are managed with dams, locks and bridges – but who makes the decisions, who gets the water, and who pays? (For example, right now there is conflict between farmers in New South Wales and Queensland over the waters of the Paroo River).
  • Also in 1861, South Australia was extended westwards to join Western Australia. This was another example of how meaningless the pre sent arrangements are. This straight line, 2000 kilometres long, might have been a degree either side of its present situation and what difference would it have made to any but Aborigi nal communities (who might find themselves under a different, more repressive Act)? Not that they were ever considered in the process.

Is it simpler to patch up the system we’ve got?

  • We are saddled with a system left over from the past, based on colonial thinking. In the computer age we should be light years ahead of that. There is duplication of support ser vices for running our multiplicity of parlia ments, a massive overload of bureaucrats, a tangle of conflicting laws and regulations, road rules, railway gauges, titles to land, lease holds, and opportunities for voluntary euthanasia, to mention just a few. Even sex is affected. The states have different ages of consent. So what is legal in a New South Wales bedroom may be illegal in a Western Australian bedroom.
  • Then there is the cost of such meetings as the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – the forum at which the Prime Minister and Prem iers and Territorial Chief Ministers, at huge expense, argue over the division of powers and revenue. There are also many lesser forums such as the Cultural Ministers’ Council at which the arts ministers, each one flanked by senior staff and departmental offi cers, meet to rationalise cultural commitments around the country. I wonder if Australians in general realise such costs are part of the price tag of keeping the States?
  • Add to this the expense of sup porting State Governors and their households. And on top of everything else no year passes without us having to vote in an election of one sort of another, because there are so many levels (tiers) of government.
  • The debate should begin with an admission that perhaps federation itself was a botched job. A century ago it may have been the best compro mise they could expect to win from squabbling colonies jealously guarding their powers and privileges. But that is no longer the situation.
  • The future Republic is not just a matter of being rid of the royals. An independent Australia ought to be founded on the best model available. Why make do with patching up the leaky vessel we have inherited?

Six Questions on Abolishing State governments

What’s wrong with federation?

  • It is too clumsy and too expensive to run. Federation was chosen as the best way for Britain to grant Australia independence with out forcing the separate colonies (or the British government itself) to give up all their powers. It might have been alright in the 19th century, but it is backward-looking for the 21st century. I am suggesting it has reached the end of its usefulness.
  • Let’s at least ask: What is the function of hav ing States and more particularly: State governments? Why do we need them? **The matter of abolishing States is entirely separate from that of abolishing State governments. Indeed, the issues are ALL but mutually exclusive.
  • We find ourselves saddled with an amazingly top-heavy structure for governing a popula tion of approximately 22 million: we have the Queen as Head of State, the Governor-General as her resident representative, 6 State Governors, 2 Territory Governors and 15 houses of parliament. That is almost a house of parliament for each million people. If the British did the same they would have more than 40 houses of par liament instead of two (or four now that the Scottish and Welsh chambers are fully set up)! For a modern country, in a world where the iso lation of separate nations is swiftly breaking down, ours is no longer a workable system.
  • We urgently need to break free from this relic of Empire and replace it with a forward-looking system able to cope with a world changing faster than ever before. In terms of money alone, the savings would be enormous.
    It is possible that the Westminster system, with a cabinet chosen from the elected mem bers of parliament making the major deci sions, may have had its day. But I still think it is preferable to the American system in which cabinet members may be appointed from out side parliament and be chosen appointees not account able to the American public at election time.

How much does the wastage cost us?

  • The simple estimate is $33 billion each year. This is more than $1534 annually for each man, woman and child in Australia.
  • You pay that $1534 a year so each State can have a separate administration for dealing with health, education, and so forth. There are nine education departments (counting the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory), nine health departments, nine departments of trans port/aviation, and so forth. This duplication is an immensely costly way of getting things done.
  • So we pay three times over: once for a Federal public service, once for a State public service, and once for local council services.
  • It is interesting to compare this $1534 per head spent on keeping the State governments with the following:
  • Less than $5 per head a year for funding the arts [one year of wastage on federation could fund the Australia Council at its present rate for 400+ years].
  • $200 per head for funding the Federal Govern ment’s $4 billion assistance program sub sidising industry.
  • Just how vast a sum this is in terms of our economy becomes clear when you realise it is twenty times the nation’s entire gold reserves. It is more than the entire Health and Family Services budget for 2012-13.
  • And, I emphasise, this is an amount paid out not just once but each and every year while we continue to support the present system.

How is this $33 billion loss calculated? 

  • Thirty-three billion dollars is estimated using government expenditure figures supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Twenty-five billion dollars of this $33 billion figure represents the savings achievable if Regional Governments are established in place of the present State, Territory and Local governments. These savings would largely be achieved through reducing the massive levels of overlap and duplication. Immense savings can be achieved, both in terms of what governments spend and in regulatory compliance costs (that is, the costs of government passed on to the private sector).
  • A further $5 billion is unnecessarily spent in State rivalries to attract overseas investment (see later in the text).
  • Then, there are even more surprising costs. For example, the cost to the nation every time a citizen moves from one State to another. As Australians we feel quite free to settle wher ever we like. But when we move there is a cost to the nation in terms of bureaucratic records, changing car registrations, driving licences and different road service organisations; in terms of smoothing over the difficulties children have in changing from one education system to another, different hospital systems, legal systems and so forth.
  • At a rough guess, Australians might waste two hours per year as a result of unnecessary inconsistencies between the States – and if we put a nominal value of $10 per hour per adult on this wasted time – we would immediately come up with an annual loss of $275 million.

Would these savings result in loss of jobs?

  • There may well be loss of jobs in the public service sector, but the costs saved are by no means entirely in the area of employment. A huge amount of taxpayers’ money – our money – goes into the hands of property managers and developers in hiring office space and purchasing equipment.
  • Indeed, by skilfully managing adjustments within the bureaucracies when combining them, it should be possible to save the first $10 billion without significant loss of jobs. And, relieved of State-based taxes (such as petrol, tobacco and alcohol excise), the private sec tor ought to be in a stronger position to take up some of the slack.
  • On top of this, there would be new job oppor tunities within the public sector when freed-up savings allow just the two levels (tiers) of governance to tackle those neglected areas which it would then be able to afford to fund. To give only two obvious examples: there could be more  teachers employed and more doctors deployed in country districts.
  • In the long run, of course, the greatly improved effectiveness of governance should result in more worthwhile jobs being created.

But if something’s not broken, why fix it?

  • We often hear people say that federation has served us well. In some ways this is true. Aus tralia has become a single nation with great achievements to its name. Still, this could just as easily have been done without State gov ernments and State Governors.
  • Though we have survived, prospered and grown, we might have improved upon that under a better-planned system. And, regard less of past successes, I believe our political system has reached the limit of its capacity to cope. You only have to read between the lines of what governments are telling us right now: they are really agreeing with this.
  • Take tax, for example. Even though we pay quite enough tax, the various governments say it can no longer find money for essential services. This was the question at the heart of the Federal government’s deter mination to introduce a GST. They are asking: How can Australia afford to maintain the ser vices provided at present? Their answer is “tax reform”, with all the implications of that. They started with the GST but where will it end?
  • An alternative answer is to abolish the State governments. Abolishing the State governments would save us enough needless expense to provide the money needed for keeping and improving the services which are under threat. Apart from which it would wipe out the nation’s foreign debt, simultaneously.
  • And the urgency is only going to get more urgent. For example, the impact of electronic commerce on tax revenue is a time-bomb. The USA is already feeling the pinch of mil lions of dollars in lost sales tax and lost cus toms duties. People here are buying more and more on the Internet. No nation can rely on continuing to tax imports at the border. Of course, this is a two-way process and we also sell to other countries in this free market of cyberspace, but the income from sales does not go into the public purse.

Why put a reliable, stable system at risk?

  • But is it stable? Was this the lesson of 1975? Our system of government took a battering in 1975. It was so fragile that just one man, the now forgotten Albert Field (appointed by Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to a Senate vacancy he was not elected to fill), proved to be sufficient leverage for overturn ing the whole shebang.
  • Without Senator Field the Opposition of the Day could never have blocked Whitlam’s budget money and Sir John Kerr could not have intervened to dismiss a democratically elected government. So, all it took to topple a government was the breaking of a single convention, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Nor should we forget that once it came to the crunch – when the Queen as head of state was needed to protect our legitimate gov ernment – she declined to intervene.
  • Right now we are living with a system where one independent Victorian Senator has the say-so as to what Acts will pass both Houses of Federal Parliament. However responsibly he behaves, we have to ask the pertinent question: is this government by the majority? Is this representative?
  • As for how reliable the system is, Gough Whitlam himself in his National Press Club address on 2 July 1997 described the nation’s greatest problem as ‘systematic, entrenched procrastination’. Nowhere is this more dam aging than in the buck-passing of functions between the Federal and State governments.
  • It could be argued that the buck-passing also affects the quality of government and the per formance of politicians. Politicians behave the way they do because they know the system puts up massive obstructions against getting anything done. This scam is called ‘checks and balances’. If they knew they could get imme diate action, without obstruction from a States-bound Senate or State governments, they are very likely to take their powers more seriously and behave accordingly.

Six Questions on How a Different System Might Work

Would everything be centralised in Canberra?

  • No. The proposal is to replace the present three-tier system with a two-tier system. Instead of Federal, State and Local govern ments we would have just National and Regional governments.
  • We might have 30 or 40 maximum Regions. There is already a well-established regional division of Australia developed by the Commonwealth Department of Housing and Regional Development.
  • These Regions would take the place of the States in governmental terms. My argument is against the expense of State and Local governments.
  • It is easy to see, for example, that Far North Queensland has little to do with Brisbane, or Gippsland with Melbourne, or the Kimberley with Perth. Many other Regions have obvious economic linkages or geographic and natural characteristics: South-West Western Australia, the Simpson Desert, the Monaro, the Riverina, Sydney’s North Shore, the Western District of Victoria, to mention only a few.
  • Instead of 12 Senators being elected to Canberra from the States henceforth, Upper House Members of Parliament would be elected from the Regions established OR the Senate could be dispensed with (also abolished) and The House of Representatives – a unicameral parliament – would be elected under the Hare-Clark proportional representation electoral model for ALL national governance requirements of the New Commonwealth or, as the case may be, the New Republican system of governance.

Is the two-tier system operating anywhere else in the world?

  • In Great Britain itself, for a start. New Zealand is another example. So is France. Incidentally, for those who wish to go on thinking of themselves as Queenslanders or Western Aus tralians etc, this proposal to abolish the State government political mechanisms may well leave such issues of identity fairly intact. To use the British example, there is no such thing as a Midlands government, or a West Country government, yet residents often speak of themselves in these terms.
  • Those who defend federation often quote as examples the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany. But Aus tralia was never in the American situation with a multiplicity of ex-colonies founded on different cultural bases (French, Spanish, English and, when Alaska was included, Russian), with different languages and with strict boundaries drawn between Radical Protestant and Conservative Catholic. That’s not our inheritance at all.
  • Nor was Australia ever in the German situa tion. Unification of the German states took a very long time to achieve. It was set back by the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, a war between Catholics and Protestants. The country remained a collection of more-or-less independent kingdoms, principalities and dukedoms sharing the same official language with each other and with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unification was not achieved until 1815, so their federation is not much older than ours. The German regions still have striking differences of cultural traditions and dialects. This is not true of the differences between Australian States. Sport, aside.
  • Then there is the issue of sheer numbers of people. Successful federations are not only based on historical foundations, which we do not share, but also on larger populations. The costs of a States system are shared by far more taxpayers in federations with larger populations.

Why would Regional Government be preferable?

  • First, because as a replacement for both State and Local governments, it is simpler: one second level (or tier) instead of two extra levels.
  • Also because Regions are more sensible divi sions of Australia than States. Regions are defined by climate and geography, population concentration, industry and other factors – real factors which affect our lives, not just lines on a map. Even a hundred years ago, the archi tects of federation agreed with this, marking out four Regions in Queensland, for example.
  • By contrast, the State boundaries have little rhyme or reason other than this was where they were drawn between the colonies.
  • Local government is mostly semi-professional at best, often incompe tent, and rife with petty corruption in its administration of land zonings and develop ment approvals etc. In country districts this is notoriously the case. Regional governments, being on a larger scale – and set up with freshly defined powers and responsibilities – could bring a new professionalism to this level of governance.
  • The danger of doing nothing – and it might eventually put our future as an independent nation at risk – is that the problems have a ten dency to grow larger with every passing year. Look at the complications of a simple decision like the High Court’s tobacco excise ruling and the effects it has had on taxing petrol and alcohol! You may think it is simple for the Common wealth to take over this power and pass the money straight back to the States. But no. Under the constitution the federal government must treat all States equally. Therefore the taxes should be the same throughout Australia. This is not, at present, the case.

Who gains from keeping the present system?

  • State politicians and State bureaucrats, for a start. Also the many people protecting their patch by supporting a system that obstructs effective governmental controls at the national level.
  • Some very large transnational corporations also gain at our expense. On 18 April 1997 the Productivity Commission attacked the State governments for making secret deals with private companies. The money spent by States and Territories competing against each other to attract foreign investment amounts to $10 billion+ a year. Much of this money is given out as grants to assist private enterprise or as exemption from State taxes such as pay roll taxes. Who pays? We do. And these costs to the public purse are not declared openly.
  • In many cases the States negotiate directly with the overseas companies concerned, not through the Australian government.
  • Exemptions (and wooings) of this kind raise the level of tax across the economy and usually cost more jobs as the final investments gain. So, sup porting States’ rights means squandering what benefits are brought into the country. And then some! This situation would not arise if all such overseas dealings were centrally handled by Canberra.
  • And Australia’s reputation abroad among our trading partners suffers because we pre sent them with the laughable spectacle of a country competing against itself.
  • Others who gain are those who wish to shift yet more of the burden of the financing of the nation on to people in the lower earning cat egory. The Australian Consumers’ Associa tion’s research (5 August 2007) estimates that single parents pay double their present tax bill as a result of the introduction of the GST, and pensioners pay an extra 20%. The GST regime could be phased out as unnecessary if we did not have the States and the concomitant State governments.

Who suffers?

  • Principally we, the taxpayers. But there are many tensions within Australia which are only made worse by State laws and differences of attitude by State governments. A brief sur vey of the disadvantaged in our community would illustrate this. Being old, disabled, an Aborigine, a single parent or a female is not the same throughout the country.
  • Tax breaks are not the same – who can be unaware of the flood of Victorians to Queensland to escape death duties?
  • The States should never have been brought together simply out of compulsion. For instance, since federation, Western Aus tralians have been continually unhappy with the arrangement. They came in at the last minute, just five months before the new nation was created. When Western Aus tralians went to the polls on 31 July 1900, 44,800 voted yes. 19,691 voted no.
  • But once in, they did not feel fully part of the federation. In April 1933 Western Australian opposition to federation reached crisis point. Another referendum was held. This time the people voted no. With an overwhelming majority they demanded to leave the Com monwealth and return to what they had been – an independent, self-governing colony within the British Empire. The government in London declined to agree to this and told them to stay within the Com monwealth. (It should be noted that they had only enjoyed self-government since 1889).
  • However, if the whole country agrees to a major change there is no one now who can refuse us. The change can be achieved. All we need do is change the constitution.

Is the problem too difficult to fix?

  • Let’s hope not, because if we can’t solve it now it will only get worse.
  • Among the most urgent challenges, in the interests of young people, is structuring our readiness for reacting to world change. The whole notion of work and work-related agreements based on doctrinaire economics has already thrown us into turmoil.
  • Is this any way to do business? One can only imagine what hard-headed negotiators think – let’s say the French or Japanese – when planning to invest in industry, only to find themselves offered the opportunity of playing Tasmanians off against Queenslanders or Victorians against South Australians, in a bidding game for supplies of cheap energy or coal or whatever. We might as well just put our head on a plate.
  • State Premiers and State negotiators are actively out there in the international market place. The present system guarantees them this right. But there can be no doubt they are actually undermining each other. It is the inheritance of the ‘federation of colonies’. Can this be the system which works so well it doesn’t need fixing?
  • One of the mysteries is why the self-proclaimed Australian Republican Movement (ARM) hasn’t used its media access to investigate these issues or have them debated. They and their ilk missed an enormous opportunity at the time of the 1998 Constitutional Convention.
  • The decision to go with federation a hundred and a eleven years ago was not unanimous, but it was fiercely contested and numerous options were aired. By contrast, the debate today is taking several large steps backwards. We treat federation as if it was handed down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets. The truth is that right now we have the ideal opportunity for examining what our founding fathers got right and what they got wrong.

Six Questions on the Constitution

What does the constitution say?

  • First, it is not like other constitutions. It is embedded in a British Act of Parliament called The British Colony of the Common wealth of Australia Constitution Act. The actual Australian Constitution does not begin until Sec tion 9 of the document. The key sentence is a statement that Britain can no longer make laws for any part of Australia.
  • Basically it reads as a document for how Britain will hand over power. And how to draw a line between the powers of the new federal government (then temporarily sitting in Melbourne, but eventually to move to a spe cially built national capital in a separate ter ritory of its own) and the powers remaining with the colonies once they become States.

There is hardly anything about the rights of citizens, other than a mention of freedom of religious worship, trial by jury and the right to just recompense for State appropriation of property, and none at all about the powers of the people, freedom of speech or the aspirations of the new nation.

The first three chapters describe the institutions of the Commonwealth, parliament, government within that parliament, and federal courts.

The remaining five chapters deal with the States and the powers they retain, trade and financial issues, and the location of the pro posed new national capital. They are the result of compromised self-interest. As one of the ‘Fathers of Federation’, Alfred Deakin, wrote: ‘Few were those in each colony who made genuine sacrifices to the cause [of federation] without thought or hope of gain.’ He went on to say that the successful agreement leading to an independent nation ‘must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles’.

On the other hand there is plenty about the money payable to Queen Victoria for cover ing the Governor-General’s salary, about when and how frequently the parliament should sit and about the transference of power and how to manage this without hitch.

Do we need a new constitution altogether?

  • Yes, because we should ensure that Australia remains a democracy. This is to say we should ensure that the people are sovereign, the people comprise the nation.
  • Yes, because protection of the fundamental human rights of all Australians should be written into our constitution – or at least into statutory law.
  • Yes, because it should declare that the power to choose the governments of the day rests with the people. And that it is the people who give the govern ment its power – not the other way about.
  • Yes, because it ought to promise access to affordable justice for all.
  • Yes, because we should also have a constitu tional guarantee of access to fair and accurate information, both national and international, based on diversity of ownership of the media, including the public itself as owner.
  • Yes, because we should declare Australia to be a participant in the international community of nations, with rights and responsibilities as one among many nations.
  • None of these points can be found in the present constitution.
  • This is why we need more than just a tinkering with one issue. This is why we need a major change. Simply to declare ourselves a Republic is to miss the opportunity of including these other vital issues.
  • To take one item only: In its judgement of 31 July 1997 the High Court refused a claim that compensation was due to Aboriginal stolen children. This pointed to an essential void in the constitution which, despite its careful apportioning of power and accounting apropos who pays for what, is silent about such basic human rights.

What should a new constitution say?

  • ‘The Republic of Australia is an independent nation under this constitution, a nation of equals in which tolerance is held to be pre cious. No issue of race, religion, gender, opinion or belief denies any citizen the freedoms or obligations of citizenship. These rights include the right to vote and to stand for elected office, freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, freedom of assembly, the right to privacy, and the citizen’s right to his or her chosen cultural identity’.
  • ‘There is absolute separation of church and state. No religious belief has state sanction over any other. Any religion may be practised provided it does not deny other rights of free dom and equality of opportunity. There is also absolute sep aration of powers between the State and the Judiciary. The legal system ensures equality and equitable justice for all citizens before the law. In cases where the law is broken the punishment shall in no circumstances be death’.
  • ‘Australia is founded on the struggles and understandings of many nations, first among them the Aboriginal groupings whose land this was before Europeans arrived. It continues to develop as a unique mix of people from many backgrounds who cherish personal respect under fair, democratic governance and government institutions’.
  • ‘The sovereignty of the nation is vested in the people. The governments govern in the inter ests of the people, always respecting its responsibilities as stewards of our island con tinent, caring for such natural necessities as the land, water, air and the coexistent rights of other species to share this land with us’.
  • ‘Australia participates as a full and respon sible member of the world community of nations, with all the rights and responsibili ties which flow from that, accepting that the interests of other countries and their peoples must be significant in the decisions taken by Australian Governments’.

What would the ordinary citizen gain?

  • If the constitution, as the basic document legally guaranteeing us our rights, spells out these rights and includes some binding decla ration making a statement about who we are and what we stand for, it becomes a more effective basis for the courts to protect us.
  • There is a basic need to declare what we mean by equality of opportunity in a culturally mixed society.
  • This would help the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal people.
  • It would enshrine every citizen’s entitlement to the protection of the law.
  • It would pledge the nation to value mutual respect and tolerance among all its citizens. We should not forget that when the present constitution was written, though its wording did set out to enshrine liberty and equality, this was only for white males. And even the name ‘The Commonwealth of Australia’ was hotly contested in the debates at the time, being thought to imply too much equality. It was actually criticised as suggestive of mob rule! At the conference where the word ‘Commonwealth’ was accepted, the vote was only won by a majority of one.
  • A well-thought-out constitution can also help find a balance between economic efficiency and equitable justice.

How would abolishing the State governments affect tax?

  • The first and greatest change would be to make the Government directly accountable for how much tax is collected off us and how it is spent or re-distributed.
  • Governments pay for the services they pro vide with tax revenue. In our present clumsy system only 40% of the money spent by the States is actually collected by them (per taxes on tobacco, alcohol, petrol, gambling, finan cial transactions and payroll tax etc), the Com monwealth collects the other 60%, quite apart from collecting its own revenues.
  • The principle I am supporting is simple: the Government which spends the taxpayers’ money should be responsible for collecting it. And vice versa. This would be the Australian Government. As a result we would have a much clearer idea of value for money and how fairly (or unfairly) we are being taxed.
  • Federalism disguises this, because so much of the tax collected by the Commonwealth is actually spent by the States. If we complain that taxes are too high, the Federal government blames the States for overspending. Similarly, if we complain that the services provided (such as health and education) are not adequate, the States blame Canberra for not giving them enough of the tax revenue collected.
  • On 5 August 1997 the High Court showed how great the mess is by overturning part of this arrangement in the biggest redistribution of taxing powers in 50 years. The learned Justices upheld a case brought by the tobacco industry and stripped the States of the power to impose a tax on tobacco. The result was a domino effect of making the collection of State petrol and alcohol taxes unconstitutional also. But instead of the States being left with nothing but crumbs they patched up an agreement. So, whatever else may be said about it, they proved that massive relocation of taxes can be achieved virtually overnight.

Why should voting be compulsory?

  • Better to think of it as an obligation rather than a compulsion. It’s more a case of a privi lege – a duty we owe to society – than a com pulsion which involves a punishable offence.
  • Obligatory voting is in line with many other obligations in our lives. As civilised citizens, we are obliged to accept the convention that we drive on the left-hand side of the road. We are obliged to cover parts of our bodies in public. We are obliged to accept a system in which we agree to put a money value on our labour. We are obliged to send our children to school.
  • And why not see elections as the celebration that they ought to be? As a polycultural society in which the community has no com mon religion to provide a whole calendar of celebrations, we are left with Christmas and Easter (both debased as celebrations and commercialised) and Anzac Day. Yet societies need celebrations. The election is a great event involving every adult. The right and the process of choosing our leaders is the living process of democracy. Why not put out the flags and embrace election day as a declara tion of the power of the individual?

Six Questions on Practicalities

Does the head of state have ultimate power in a Republic?

  • Not necessarily.
  • The important thing is that whoever is chosen as Head of State (or, as the case may be, the Heads of State) should have the best constitutional advice. There is a lot to be said for the German system of having two High Courts, one of which operates like ours and another which deals exclusively with constitutional law (rather like the British Law Lords of the Privy Council).
  • This Constitutional Court should be the body responsible for the “reserve” powers of the Head(s) of State. The President [or The Presidency] need not have (collective) constitutional legal skills.
  • As to the vexed issue of who would choose the President [or Presidency], the main alternatives are either by direct vote of the people, or through some system of appointment by agreement of both houses of parliament, or a combination of both.
  • The direct vote is immediately appealing and less likely to confine the choice to ex-politicians or judges. However, it could very quickly result in something like the American problem where no one but a millionaire could sustain the costs of a campaign.
  • A compromise might be for the political par ties to endorse candidates and then put the final choice to a popular vote.
  • In the Republic which I am suggesting this choice would not present a problem where State Governors or Premiers are concerned because their positions would no longer exist.

How important is it to supplant the Queen? 

  • The best way to answer this question is to quote from a book by a distinguished Aus tralian historian, Bruce Grant, who was once our High Commissioner to India. He tells of an official visit to India by our Governor-General at the time, Sir John Kerr…To quote from the book: “I  was the Queen of Australia’s represen tative in India and Nepal. The Governor-General was her representative in Australia. Outside Australia the Gover nor-General had no constitutional authority as representative of the Queen, but he was travelling as Australia’s ‘Head of State’, whatever that was … I had advised the Government of Nepal that the national anthem, Advance Aus tralia Fair, should be played at the air port when the Governor-General arrived and was met by the King . . . He [Kerr] suggested that it would have been more appropriate if the band had played what he described as the Vice-Regal salute, which contained six bars of the national anthem and eight bars of the royal anthem (perhaps it was the other way around). The King of Nepal’s diplomats might have asked some ridiculously embarrassing ques tions. For example: ‘If the Governor-General is the Queen’s representative in Australia when she is not there, what is he when she is there?’ or ‘Alright, if you don’t know that, then what is he when he is not there?’”. One can imagine that Mr Grant had a dilemma of sorts!
  • This is enough to make any nation a laughing-stock.

Why not simply go along with the minimum change plan?

  • The notion that we can keep the present structure and simply replace the Queen with a President (or Presidency) has led the Australian Republican Movement [ARM] to propose a Federation of Republics: the Republic of Victoria, the Republic of Queensland, the Republic of New South Wales, and so forth, held together by a Federation. Bizarre but true (see the let ter from the Victorian Convenor of ARM, John Hirst, The Australian, 3 April 1997).
  • Of course, if the old sovereign colonies – which became sovereign States in 1901 – now became sovereign Republics, they would have the right to say yes or no all over again. We might very likely find that Queensland and Western Australia, to take the most probable examples, say no to becoming Republics and vote to remain monarchical and with the monarchy.
  • We could end up in the ridiculous position of an Australian Federation consisting of the Republics of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and the Monarchies of Queensland, Tasmania and Western Aus tralia (and where does this leave the North ern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory which have never had sovereignty or the full trappings of protocol with Gover nors and their retinue?).
  • In that case, we would most likely be relying on the formidable professionalism of Queen Elizabeth II to decline to preside over the rebel States. How would it be for the ARM to go cap in hand to the Queen to force the renegades into line as unwilling Republics!
  • The first and main issue to be resolved is not the Head(s) of State matter, but the change to a Republic.

Why now and not later?

  • At the beginning of every new century there is a unique spirit among people, determined to review the nation’s achievements but moreover to look towards the future and even start afresh. We are nearly 12 years into the new millennium already so we had better get a move on.
  • We have great achievements to our credit, not least of which is that we have established a fair, open and humane society. A fabulous place to live. And now that we are on our own we want to keep it that way.
  • The time has plainly come for finally shaking off the old colonial model. Just how creaky the machinery has grown became clear to every body during the tax chaos of August 1997. Such a Pandora’s Box of problems was let loose that the then Premier of Western Australia, Richard Court, said in an ABC TV interview on 7 August that changing the constitution is not only possible, but necessary.
  • Richard Court’s goal was to have the constitution altered for the States to be given new rights to impose taxes. What he did not admit was that there is an alternative: leaving the taxes with the Commonwealth and abol ishing the States and State governments altogether.
  • A State Premiers’ meeting, held within days of the High Court decision, made quite clear that the States are perfectly prepared to see us taxed twice on our incomes (once by com monwealth income tax and at another level by a new state income tax). Their actions prove that, rather than justify the huge bur den they already put on the taxpayer to sup port the unwieldy system of governance they represent, they would cheerfully complicate taxation even further. And there’s no prize for guessing who would pay. Not the very rich who scarcely contribute anything at all. No, it would be the PAYE taxpayers who already shoulder the main collective burden of keeping the country functioning.

Isn’t there an argument for interstate competitiveness?

  • This is the jargon of the marketplace and it is not appropriate. In any competition there are winners and losers. If we accept competition between the States, we must accept that people living where there are rich resources (minerals, agricultural land, population) will become far better off than those in States with poorer resources. The gap that already exists will widen dramatically if State competition goes any further. Tasmanians and South Aus tralians will immediately become second-class citizens, Western Australians and Queenslanders will no longer be called on to share the fruits of geographic good luck. Unless we turn the tide of this internal competitiveness, Australia will become more deeply divided and the functioning of the nation as a nation (the great step forward which federation did achieve for us) will be damaged.
  • Rivalry among ourselves clearly puts us in a weak position when it comes to competing as a nation in the international arena.  The jargon of competition disguises a new epi demic of selfishness. There is a warning to be found in recent advertising campaigns for various commodities and gambling institu tions aimed directly at appealing to the new political correctness of anti-social attitudes.
  • And does it even work for business? In the marketplace, competition leads to fewer and fewer competitors because, by its very nature, it eliminates the weaker contenders. Look at the banks. How many were there thirty years ago? How many are there now? Bigger banks swallow smaller ones. And look at the media. Diversity is under threat.
  • So much for the variety promised by those who preach competition. Let’s opt for coop eration. We are all in this together. The bene fits and the disadvantages should be shared as equally as possible.

How hard is it for us to imagine our future?

  • Well, isn’t it easier to imagine and plan our future than to endure a future thrust upon us; a future that takes us off-guard?
  • People talk about the constitution as if it stands between us and change. It is a docu ment – that’s all. And not much bulkier than this paper.
  • We should remember that a hundred and eleven years ago the nation was founded before the age of cars, aircraft, satellites and computers. Even the telephone was a rarity. Australia then was very remote and isolated from the rest of the world. Europe was 10 weeks away by sea. No wonder the planners thought in terms of a fortress – racial as well as military. Being British was part of their defensive thinking. Even when federation had been agreed to, there was no such thing as Australian citizen ship (apart from British citizenship) until 1949. And the very first Australian passports were not issued until 1973!
  • Things are different now. We are no longer shy of our nationality. And we are connected to the world of communications and trade as never before. The last thing is to evolve to a new stage in governance itself.
  • The big task – and it is huge – will be the reshuffling of powers so a three-tier system can be reduced to a two-tier system. This will involve massive changes in staffing, reloca tion and re-allocation of buildings, plant and equipment. No one should underestimate how big the job would be. That, after all, is how many of the savings can be made. It is difficult, admittedly, but not impossible.

Six Questions on the Future 

Would such a big change cut us off from our history?

  • The inevitable monarchist voices have been raised against the very notion of a rational decision, on the grounds that it would cut us off from our history. But this is nonsense. You don’t sever connections with the past when you make sensible changes. Quite the con trary. Such changes, being based on experi ence, are actually a connection with the past; a firming up of our links with the past.
  • What does make a mockery of history is pre tending that the constitution is framed in terms of the relationship of the Governor-General to an independent Australia. It is framed in terms of Queen Victoria’s powers in 1900. So the ARM appears to favour the appointment of a President to replace Queen Victoria.
  • As for the “Australian” flag, the Union Jack in the corner of our present flag is understood throughout the world as a colonial statement. It’s no use arguing that it simply represents a historical fact. Each time the flag is raised the Union Jack means one thing: strong connection to Great Britain.
  • Just how powerful a flag can be was bril liantly demonstrated by the Aboriginal flag, first flown at the Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra. Until that moment, the many groups and clans of Aboriginal people did not have a single icon to unite them. The red, yellow and black banner is now seen everywhere around the country.
  • Canada offers a useful example to us. When the move was made to replace the old Dominion flag, there was loud and outraged opposition. The very same arguments were used – loyalty to Britain, the enshrining of history, remembering the soldiers who had died in battle under the old flag, and so forth. The very day after the red and white maple leaf flag was introduced, Canadians took it to their hearts. And the rest of the world recognises it as uniquely Canadian.

What need is there for better planning structures?

  • Twenty years ago all parties were agreed that computers would eventually cause complete upheaval in society and a restructuring of employment. Now this is happening we have forgotten that we knew all along. The fact that we did not adequately adjust our planning to take up the slack is not the fault of the technology, it is the fault of the planners.
  • There are other great problems such as pollu tion, climate change and environmental responsibility. The world may not be far from an outbreak of wars over clean air, clean water and room to live. Not to mention what will happen when oil supplies reach their limit and we face the chaos of irre versible world fuel shortages.
  • This is not to preach a doomsday message, simply to say there are issues we need to address – even as individual citizens – when we are told to shut up and keep things the way they are and listen to what we are told by our political masters who claim to know best.
  • What we must remember is that we are bound by international treaties and guaran tees of human rights.
  • There is no doubt that new pressures are brought to bear by the globalised economy and globalised information. National sover eignty is under challenge all over the world. What this means is that we need a new focus in the face of unforeseen change – and a gov ernment able to speak for all the people. Sur rendering these powers to market forces, especially global market forces, means to hand over control of our lives. We put it on a plate. We surrender the power to address our own needs. Democracy, the vote, politics: these are our tools for keeping some control over our own lives.

How would the abolition of the State governments affect television, sport and the arts?

  • Very little.
  • Sport has moved along towards breaking down State borders anyway. There was a time when Australian Rules football was exclu sively a Victorian sport, for example. Since then the VFL has become the AFL. Now there is the NRL. And Rugby attracts huge crowds in Mel bourne – the home of Australian Rules. Base ball used to be thought of as American. Tennis has always been national. Cricket’s Sheffield Shield is probably most locked in to States and there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue as it is. We’re only talking about dismantling the machinery of State Governments.
  • In the arts, which are funded by both Federal and State governments, savings would be con siderable if the overlap were done away with –  especially the amount spent on administration. There is no reason why the delivery should be much affected.
  • The regulation of the media is entirely a national issue, so there would be no neces sary change in this area either.

How would the change affect our national identity?

  • First, a new constitution would be a much needed boost to our national self-respect. It would make Australians more aware of what we stand for and what values we hold dear. Hopefully it might help combat the rise of selfishness that has blatantly surfaced during the past twenty years. Then there would be the benefits of a clearer international image.
  • An essential aspect of why we need to change (why we need a less clumsy system of gov ernance and one able to act decisively for us all) is to meet the challenge to our national identity presented by the new global commu nications. Not least of the problems we are going to be faced with is that regarding ownership of infor mation. Moves are well advanced for inter national treaties enshrining intellectual property. Having to pay for knowledge is a frightening prospect and a thinly masked push by multi-billion-dollar software manu facturers, the new mega-rich.
  • The fact that so many languages are spoken in Australia – counting Aboriginal languages and the languages of many waves of migrants – should not be seen as a threat to national identity but as a huge resource for protecting it – a resource we have scarcely begun to tap.
  • It is impossible to overstate the power of the media in reshaping our lives and controlling what we know. As Professor Ian Lowe says: ‘The future is not somewhere we are going, but something we are creating.’

Would Australia be better equipped for the future?

  • No one knows what waits round the corner. The best preparation we can have is an abil ity to adapt to change. A single national government is better able to adapt than many governments pulling in different directions.
  • One thing reasonably certain to continue is the catastrophic growth in world population, which may soon reach 120 million a year. This is surely bound to have an effect on what we choose to do in Australia – from what crops we grow to how many migrants we accept. Overpopulation in neighbouring countries is not just an issue of potential markets and money in the pocket for us. It is also an issue of neighbourly responsibility. And potential conflict. There are even people who argue that by taking in as many migrants as possible from China, Indonesia and South East Asia we deter an invasion further down the track.
  • As far as the economy is concerned, experi ence should tell us that the experts are only guessing. When governments listen uncriti cally to economists we all pay the price, as we are seeing right now. There is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that the present radical changes will result in increased employment. The future is not in some way fated. It is not just the outcome of market forces or economic trends – it is in our hands. And if we take no active part in the direction our nation is devel oping, then our passivity will condemn us.
  • Opportunities for the individual are always there. Often we read articles suggesting that technology gives us greater personal power, while it breaks down the power of the state. My response is: Only if we make use of the power we have.
  • Our mixed race population also gives us a huge advantage by teaching us how to cope in the new globalised world culture.

Why is such a change dismissed as impossible?

  • Some critics think it cannot be done. Why not? Because, they say, the Australian people cannot be persuaded to make major changes to the constitution. But why not? Changes have repeatedly been made to State constitu tions and these were done by referendum. If we are to have a Republic at all, it will have to be achieved through altering the Federal constitution by referendum.
  • What kind of country is this if we complain about taking charge of our own future? There is a danger here that the national sickness of institutional procrastination will put us at a serious disadvantage in a rapidly changing world. And it is no good pleading that such changes are too sweeping. The question remains: How long can we afford to go on being saddled with the burden of an unproduc tive $33 billion annual outlay each and every year?
  • We have fallen into a habit of allowing only the most orthodox opinions to be heard. Disagreement is all too often mocked simply because it demands greater mental effort.
  • Abolishing the State governments should NOT be too difficult to achieve. It only requires the will to do it. Queensland, for example, has only one House of Parliament – Queenslanders abolished their Upper House in 1922. If Queenslanders can do that so can the rest of us.
  • At the very least the challenge for the ARM in particular but the Repub lican Cause in the broad is to arouse the public’s political imagination. Without that we will get nowhere. A minimal change, such as the ARM proposes, has evidently not caught on as a vision for the nation. There is a larger and more exciting future.
  • Whatever else happens, let’s agree that two (2) levels of governance (that is: two (2) tiers of governance) and a Presidency are quite enough for Australia’s long-term purposes. A great many people will see the sense of this. It will win support for the Republic, not lose it.

A few concluding comments

Let’s suppose a future Liberal/National Federal Coalition Government succeeds in keeping the cap on this, and possibly even defeats or shuns or blocks the idea of a Republic altogether…will things remain the same? Not now the constitution is under challenge.

As yet, the public has really no idea how seri ous this challenge is. It is so serious that the courts are finding their jurisdictions increasingly under mined, to the extent that if things go much further the country may well become ungovernable. This may seem exaggerated, but it’s not. Questions about the legality of the Federal Constitution itself are now commonplace in our courts. The States themselves may even be proved to have no legal status.

If you think the case is being overstated, here is a conundrum to think about:

  1. The Federal constitution can only be changed by a Commonweatlh referendum.
  2. The powers shared out in the Federal constitution are powers guaranteed by the Queen of the United Kingdom (then Queen Victoria).
  3. Yet the present Queen guarantees these powers with her relatively recent title: Queen of Australia.
  4. There is no mention in the Federal constitution of any such person as the Queen of Australia.
  5. Therefore a change has been made.
  6. But how can this be, since the people took no such decision to alter the terms of sovereignty in the Federal constitution by the only way a change can be made – referendum?

Here is another puzzle:

  1. In the UK in 1986 Australians lost any special status as British sub jects and became aliens.
  2. Since 1986 the Queen has gone on issuing Letters Patent to grant powers to a succession of Australian Governors-General.
  3. Therefore it would seem that she has been exercising ultimate authority over aliens, which is a violation of the 1947 Geneva Conven tion and contravenes article 2.1 of the Charter of the United Nations.

And, finally, here is the paradox…When Australia sent troops to fight in the Great War (1914-1918), this was an Imperial war. Its origins can be directly traced back to the 17th century and Germany’s failure to resolve divisions between her warring Catholic and Protestant states, a thirty-year con flict which left her out of the running in the com petition between other European Empires for lucrative colonies.

But we did send troops, and they fought mag nificently. Thanks to them we had a place at the peace negotiations and at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

The paradox is that though they fought in a European war their participation made possible our first act in the international arena as a nation independent of Great Britain. Indeed the Prime Minister of the Day, Billy Hughes, hailed it as such in the Federal Parliament: ‘Australia has now entered into a family of nations on a footing of equality. Australia has been born in a blood sacrifice.’ (10 September, 1919).

So, to move on to 1931, what did the 1931 Statute of Westminster mean? This was the British Act of Parliament which contained the formal dec laration of Australia’s independence. Yet, we had exercised independence and had it internationally acknowledged twelve years earlier!

Let’s exercise it again and demand a new con stitution which sets out our rights and responsi bilities – beginning with a declaration that the sovereignty of the nation is vested in the people, and that the people are all those born in Australia and all those who achieve Australian citizenship.

Let’s do it!

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