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Australian nationalism? « Previous | |Next »
April 13, 2005

Some call it Australian nationalism, and they say that they have little time for state parochialism. This kind of nationalism implies that there is little inherent virtue in that part of the Australian federal system that is designed to protect the powers of the States vis-a-vis the Commonwealth. It sees the States as obsolete and in the way of the national interest.


Yet we citizens live in a nation composed of diverse regional communities, and our history is one of coming to ironically respect those differences. We also live in a nation-state whose constitution and political reality is one of a plurality of political power centres to ensure that no one political entity controls the entire policy agenda. The States are not accidents of history, even if the ferderal system is riven with conflict.

This means that John Howard's nationalism emphasizes unity at the expense of diversity; it is a nation-building, conservative nationalism that rides roughshode over regional diversity in the name of parochialism.

More is involved in the current biff than the conservative centralists wanting blood--itching for the State's ALP blood. The Commonwealth just keeps on broadening the areas of dispute. Today TAFE is the new battleground. Now, I had thought that the Commonwealth would leave the state-run TAFE system to founder and drift, whilst it pushed ahead with the new technical colleges.

But no. That was last year. Today all is different because the Howard Government has gained control of the Senate. With the Senate captured (thanks to the tactics of the ALP in Victoria) that now leaves the States and the High Court as the bulwarks of the federal division of power.

The Minister of Education is now saying that federal training funding will be reduced by the Commonwealth, unless the States introduce industrial relations reform, open up their training systems to private providers, and create extra training places for those with disabilities and older workers in regions with skill shortages.

This kind of reform is fine. Pressure does need to be put on the states to lift their game with repect to vocational education. It is the way the Commonwealth is riding roughshod that is the problem as it is always penalties and never incentives. Michelle Grattan in her op.ed in The Age puts her finger on 'roughshod':

" can't run a federal-state system satisfactorily on sustained political thuggery. The Howard Government mightn't care much, because all the states are run by the enemy - indeed, it thinks it is helping the state oppositions - but it's bad for everyone in the long term.
Either the present system needs to be conducted more smoothly or, if the PM and Treasurer think the states are as bad as they say or imply, on everything from infrastructure to accountability, they should consider radically reshaping the landscape again."

I reckon it's not a question of if but is: the Howard Government is currently involved in radically reshaping the political-scape of the nation state.

It is a concerted campaign against the states currently being rolled out: it is a major assault on our federal constitution, which works on the basis that you divide and balance power to make sure that power is not abused. The Howard Government is radically reshaping the federal politicalscape by underming the divisions of power and centralize it.

Greg Craven concurs with this interpretation of radically reshaping the federal politicalscape. He says:

"...this is not an isolated series of instances. This is a general advance on federalism. We've got things happening in health, we've got things happening in education, in industrial relations and in defamation. All of these things are happening, and it basically amounts to, I think, a wide-fronted attack on the principle that power in Australia is divided. Now, I don't think that's a view that is held universally among Australian Liberals and conservatives. I don't even think it's a view held universally among the Federal Government. But reading these types of speeches and seeing this type of rhetoric, one could be forgiven for thinking that Liberals and conservatives had always been in favour of untrammelled centralism."

Petty has got it pretty right with his cartoon. The question is: will the High Court come to the defence of the States?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:34 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

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The implications of Australia's federal Constitution is that involve the continued existence of the States as independent political entities. The federalist system of government is guaranteed not by the old doctrine of reserve powers, but by the frame ... [Read More]