19/12/2006 - 22:00

High cost of court decision

19/12/2006 - 22:00


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For State Scene, 2006 will be memorable for several reasons.

For State Scene, 2006 will be memorable for several reasons.

The first was that the price of my humble home leapt by a hefty 50-plus per cent, something that’s never happened before.

This was, of course, experienced by home owners across Perth, meaning we’re all better off, absolutely, but relatively much the same as during and before 2005.

The only real beneficiaries – in dollar terms – were those who owned another house and sold it to realise the windfall resulting from Western Australia having become Australia’s resources exporting powerhouse.

It’s worth emphasising that WA’s economic growth during 2006 registered double-digit levels, something economists once associated only with East Asia’s so-called tiger economies, namely, Japan, colonial Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

But it would be wrong to see the chalking up of such rates as unprecedented, since it happened briefly when the Pilbara emerged as a world class iron ore province in the mid-1960s.

That said, it’s worth emphasising that all who have made WA home since the mid-1960s have not only lived during an enormously prosperous period, but also within one of the internationally best performing economies.

Despite occasional business downturns, export-oriented WA, from 1966 to 2006, was one of the world’s most prosperous and stable economies.

This contrasts to, say, the late 1940s, or worse still, 1930s, even though WA emerged from the Great Depression well before other states because of a buoyant gold mining industry.

International trade – globalisation, if you like – is thus crucial to the prosperity of Western Australians.

Since that’s rarely highlighted, State Scene takes the opportunity to emphasise WA’s 1966-2006 experience, with the last year far and away the most prosperous.

The other reason for remembering 2006 as a milestone year is unrelated to the hip-pocket nerve, but rather to public life, which was far less impressive.

Early in the New Year, Geoff Gallop vacated his well-paid job as premier, opting to depart politics entirely and become one of the state’s best-paid baby boomer superannuants.

Promptly thereafter, opposition leader Matt Birney was dumped for not living up to expectations.

WA political endeavour thereafter included the occasional bitter wrangle whereby high-flyers, or to use the phrase of new premier, Alan Carpenter, “rising stars”, figuratively speaking, nose-dived to become feather dusters.

The two names burned in most minds as integral to WA politics in 2006 are, of course, John D’Orazio and Norm Marlborough, both of whom lost their cabinet positions following Corruption and Crime Commission investigations.

Ljiljanna Ravlich and John Bowler have also been demoted – the former after a difficult year over outcomes-based education and a criticism of her department’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations, and the latter for his links to former premier Brian Burke – while Sheila McHale has been moved from the sensitive indigenous affairs portfolio to consumer protection.

Year 2006 will also be remembered as the one during which the WA Labor Party followed the Liberal precedent of removing its dominant post-war powerbroker, with the forced resignation of Brian Burke following the Smiths Beach debacle.

In 1996, the Liberals had expelled their long-time equivalent, Noel Crichton-Browne.

And the Nationals announced they intended to permanently break with the traditional practice of creating conservative coalitions.

No longer can the Liberals count on them becoming governing partners.

In future, WA’s Nationals, who are without Canberra representation since the late 1970s, will remain outside two-party state governing arrangements.

What this means if that if the balance of power ever fell into the Nationals’ lap, they’d instead draw-up a formal deal with the majority party – Liberals or Labor – and remain outside cabinet.

It seems coalition governments are to be things of the past.

That’s certainly a new turn and only time will tell how it plays out.

But what of the Canberra scene?

Here the news was also far from good; dismal, in fact.

And the reason was that John Howard-controlled Canberra hammered the last centralist nail, with the Australian High Court’s help, via the corporations power judgement, into Australia’s 105-year-old federation.

This means that WA, and other states, will now be increasingly and totally controlled by what some call SCAM – Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne – since both major cities together have the parliamentary numbers in Canberra, irrespective of which party wins any national election.

Like WA’s four-decade-long prosperity cycle, this too is worth considering in a longer-term historical perspective.

The best way of doing this is to recall that each Australian colony in 1901 became a state and simultaneously a member of a federation, the Commonwealth of Australia.

This break with or dependence upon distant London, or the passing of the baton to a newly created governing structure, came on the first day of last century.

However, within 21 years, the Labor Party adopted what it then called its unificationist plank.

In simple terms that meant the states would be scrapped by being broken up into many centrally controlled provinces.

Australia’s non-Labor parties – predecessors of the Liberals and Nationals as well as both these parties – responded by drawing a permanent line to defend the traditional states, and thus the federation, by not allowing a unitary nation to arise.

This – unification versus federation – became the second major fault line of Australian politics.

The other, of course, was socialism, something Labor also embraced in 1921.

Thereafter two things happened; the first was that Labor, with the emergence of Robert Hawke in 1983, finally discarded its socialisation goal.

In fact, under the anti-socialist Hawke revolution, Australia emulated the British Conservative program of Margaret Thatcher, which meant widespread privatisation – Qantas, Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Serum Laboratories being the best examples – with the sleepy copycat Liberals following much later by selling off Telsta in stages.

There remained, however, the unificationist plank, which Labor hadn’t discarded, just temporarily sidelined.

Here again the Liberals and Nationals have become copycat followers, thereby betraying their traditional federalist stances as well as the 1901 act of federating.

Ten years on, in 1996, John Howard, took the Liberals to power.

Very soon after it became obvious a copycat centralist Howard revolution was set to occur.

Increasingly since 1996 the Howard Liberals have been centralising Australia. Put differently, Canberra has moved to finally and fully displace London as the centre of all and total power over the former colonies, which in 1901 became states.

This year’s High Court corporations power decision victory for Canberra means the six states, plus two territories, have become the equivalent of local governments in relation to state parliaments; mere colonies of Canberra, as they’d been of London before 1901.

A November 15 Australian Associated Press report put this well: “The framers of the constitution intended to create a federation of strong states and a weak central government.

“Their intention didn’t last: 105 years later, the situation is precisely the reverse.

“Yesterday, the High Court did much more than simply reject a challenge by all the states and territories to the Howard government’s industrial revolution.

“It confirmed a revolution of its own.

“It has re-read the constitution to expand Commonwealth power at the expense of the states, to the point that one dissenting judge warned each state parliament could become little but ‘an impotent debating society’.

“While increased federal intervention in education, health and transport may not happen any time soon, according to yesterday’s landmark decision, it can. If the government wished to do so, the states could now do little to stop it.”

Interestingly, State Scene couldn’t find a single WA Canberra-based Liberal MP who objected, including especially WA’s three Howard government ministers, senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison, and MHR, Julie Bishop.

One can’t help wondering why we still have a Liberal Party other than to ensure individuals like the three named have a fly-in fly-out Canberra-based office.

Labor may not have been in power since 1996 but its post-1921 centralising aim has certainly had a good a kick-along by the copycat Liberals.

Farewell historic Western Australia, you’re set to become SCAM’s colony with parliament house in West Perth to become a costly and lavish debating venue.

What a terrible year.

Except for that real estate price hike, which, unfortunately, couldn’t be realised.




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