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Creeping centralism unwanted

After each federal election, State Scene scans the new ministerial line-up to see if any political maddies were appointed to head the foreign affairs and defence ministries.

The last time was in November when it was found Perth MHR Stephen Smith, definitely not a political maddie despite Labor's second strangest leader Mark Latham nicknaming him Rooster, scored foreign affairs.

Defence went to long-time Latham pal, Joel Fitzgibbon.

Not knowing much about him, enquiries were made and assurance received that, like Mr Smith, he isn't a political maddie.

State Scene sees both posts as the most important after the prime ministership because Australia's security in these increasingly dangerous times depends so much on the right people being in each.

What wasn't expected was to discover that Mr Fitzgibbon holds very suspect views beyond his defence responsibilities, namely on how Australia should be governed.

The strangest of these was revealed in his inaugural Edmund Barton Lecture delivered this month at Newcastle University, which carried the following remark: "Further ideal reform would include abolition of the states."

Barton, Australia's first prime minister, strongly backed federation, something so many 1890s New South Welshites weren't enthused over.

Few realise just how many in that Sydney-dominated state were content with things as they then were and if other colonies chose to merge with NSW it would retain dominance because of its larger population.

A key feature of the federal arrangement was to ensure those living in outer colonies were able to combat such control, primarily by Sydney and also Melbourne.

Barton was MHR for Hunter, Mr Fitzgibbon's seat.

Before putting Mr Fitzgibbon's silly state abolition suggestion into historical context, here's a brief summary of key aspects of his case.

His basic contention is that Australia's federal arrangement differs from America's because: "Barton and his colleagues were content with their enumerated powers and to leave the balance of responsibilities to the states."

He then says: "This may or may not be fairly described as a mistake.

"Indeed they [the founding fathers] were in no position to achieve otherwise.

"But, it is an outcome, which despite the High Courts work in expanding the powers of the Commonwealth in recent decades, is an outcome [sic] we still pay heavily for today."

What he seems to be driving at here is that because of a series of ongoing High Court decisions that have boosted Canberra's powers, taxpayers now face paying even more for administration.

State Scene's only dispute with that is that Labor governments, since the 1920s at least, have done their damndest to barge in on state responsibilities thereby further duplicating governances.

Transport, health, and education, to name just three big-ticket items, are obvious examples.

So don't only blame the High Court, as undesirable as some of its decisions have been.

Peer long and hard into that mirror at what Canberra politicians, especially Sydney Labor ones, who are at least as culpable, have been doing for more than 80 years.

Mr Fitzgibbon continued: "It's a system that leaves us the most over-governed country in the world.

"Fourteen houses of parliament for 22 million people.

"In Tasmania they have an MP for every 8,000 electors."

Nor does State Scene dispute any of this.

But why not sheet responsibility home on to Canberra and its politicians - primarily, but not solely, Labor ones - who constantly barge into state responsibilities to create ever more costly duplication?

Mr Fitzgibbon has resorted in the crassest way possible of playing the "blame game" - something his leader, Kevin Rudd, said would cease with a Rudd Labor government.

This careful tip-toeing around the argument by remaining silent on Labor's role, via its long-standing centralist commitment, is the trickiest segment of his address.

"The duplication, the inefficiencies, the buck passing and blame shifting costs our economy billions," he continued.

"Indeed, the Business Council of Australia puts it at $9 billion annually.

"And I'm sure the current model frustrates even the most patient in our society - whether it be the individual trying to secure an answer to a health policy issue, or a business trying to work across state borders and facing six to eight regulatory frameworks."

"Wholesale constitutional reform in Australia is long overdue."

At that point Mr Fitzgibbon moves on to contend that:

- It's time for an Australian Republic.

- Further ideal reform would include the abolition of the states.

- Also welcome would be an electoral system which acts on the principle of proportional representation, giving minor parties a voice in both houses of the national parliament.

Now, the only one of these that's directly relevant to his case of Australians being over-governed is the second.

Contentions one and three are non-sequiturs.

The need, or otherwise, to opt for a republic simply doesn't follow from his contentions on costly governance.

And whether our present mix of preferential majoritarian House of Representatives voting and the Senate's proportional voting should be replaced across-the-board by what he calls "the principle of proportional representation", also doesn't follow from his earlier contentions.

Logic certainly doesn't appear to be Mr Fitzgibbon's strongest suit.

So he's left us with one debatable contention - abolition of the states - something Labor has been doing its damndest to facilitate by centralising Australia since the early 1920s when centralisation became fashionable in Germany amongst the Nazi Party - all power to Berlin - and in the Soviet Union within the Bolshevik Party - all power to Moscow.

Several things need highlighting here.

The first is that Mr Fitzgibbon is a New South Welshman; in other words, from Australia's most populace state and the one that, not coincidentally, Gough Whitlam and John Howard, Australia's two biggest centralisers, hail from.

Both those Sydneysiders did more to intensify centralisation - ever more power to Canberra bureaucrats and politicians.

Mr Fitzgibbon is very much your typical NSW Labor centralist - someone wanting Canberra's bureaucrats to encroach ever further into state affairs.

NSW can be likened to Prussia, the entity that set about dominating to the maximum Germany's post-1870 outer states, initially through Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, later by Adolf Hitler, who aspired to having only an eine Reich, not Germany's Weimar Republic federalist arrangement.

Instead of blaming the High Court, Mr Fitzgibbon should look hard at his party's role in creating, since the 1920s, "the duplication, the inefficiencies, the buck passing and blame shifting that costs our economy billions."

His speech also fails to appreciate that when Labor adopted its post-World War I centralisation plank, it wished to replace Australia's traditional states with 31 provinces, all of which would have been controlled even more tightly by Canberra than the states presently are.

And a single chamber parliament was to have "unlimited power" over these 31 province that would have had their own legislatures, growing bureaucracies, and even more duplication.

Labor's 1920s provincialising plan would have meant more power to Sydneysider politicians and even greater control by Canberra bureaucrats than now.

Mr Fitzgibbon, like all Sydneysider centralists, doesn't appreciate one simple fact - Australians in 2008, as in 1901, when a decentralised federation was realised, don't wish to be ever more tightly controlled by one - eine in German - single distant national government controlling everything from a centre with "unlimited power."

The best way of ensuring the 1901 federal contract is honored is for Canberra - meaning, in great part, Sydney-based Liberal and Labor politicians - launches a program of drastic decentralisation which means its bureaucrats would vacate a huge number of areas of responsibility.

That would lead to taxes being able to be drastically slashed.

And if that happened - which, of course, it won't, because that needs courage - Australia would promptly cease being what Mr Fitzgibbon calls "the most over-governed country in the world." Contentions one and three are non-sequiturs.

The need, or otherwise, to opt for a republic simply doesn't follow from his contentions on costly governance.

And whether our present mix of preferential majoritarian House of Representatives voting and the Senate's proportional voting should be replaced across-the-board by what he calls "the principle of proportional representation", also doesn't follow from his earlier contentions.

Logic certainly doesn't appear to be Mr Fitzgibbon's strongest suit.

So he's left us with one debatable contention - abolition of the states - something Labor has been doing its damndest to facilitate by centralising Australia since the early 1920s when centralisation became fashionable in Germany amongst the Nazi Party - all power to Berlin - and in the Soviet Union within the Bolshevik Party - all power to Moscow.

Several things need highlighting here.

The first is that Mr Fitzgibbon is a New South Welshman; in other words, from Australia's most populace state and the one that, not coincidentally, Gough Whitlam and John Howard, Australia's two biggest centralisers, hail from.

Both those Sydneysiders did more to intensify centralisation - ever more power to Canberra bureaucrats and politicians.

Mr Fitzgibbon is very much your typical NSW Labor centralist - someone wanting Canberra's bureaucrats to encroach ever further into state affairs.

NSW can be likened to Prussia, the entity that set about dominating to the maximum Germany's post-1870 outer states, initially through Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, later by Adolf Hitler, who aspired to having only an eine Reich, not Germany's Weimar Republic federalist arrangement.

Instead of blaming the High Court, Mr Fitzgibbon should look hard at his party's role in creating, since the 1920s, "the duplication, the inefficiencies, the buck passing and blame shifting that costs our economy billions."

His speech also fails to appreciate that when Labor adopted its post-World War I centralisation plank, it wished to replace Australia's traditional states with 31 provinces, all of which would have been controlled even more tightly by Canberra than the states presently are.

And a single chamber parliament was to have "unlimited power" over these 31 province that would have had their own legislatures, growing bureaucracies, and even more duplication.

Labor's 1920s provincialising plan would have meant more power to Sydneysider politicians and even greater control by Canberra bureaucrats than now.

Mr Fitzgibbon, like all Sydneysider centralists, doesn't appreciate one simple fact - Australians in 2008, as in 1901, when a decentralised federation was realised, don't wish to be ever more tightly controlled by one - eine in German - single distant national government controlling everything from a centre with "unlimited power."

The best way of ensuring the 1901 federal contract is honored is for Canberra - meaning, in great part, Sydney-based Liberal and Labor politicians - launches a program of drastic decentralisation which means its bureaucrats would vacate a huge number of areas of responsibility.

That would lead to taxes being able to be drastically slashed.

And if that happened - which, of course, it won't, because that needs courage - Australia would promptly cease being what Mr Fitzgibbon calls "the most over-governed country in the world."

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