31/05/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Centralising push a move left

31/05/2005 - 22:00


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State Scene has three excellent informants with a good view into what’s happening within Canberra’s conservative elite headed by John Howard and John Anderson.

State Scene has three excellent informants with a good view into what’s happening within Canberra’s conservative elite headed by John Howard and John Anderson.

None is a politician.

Each has access to a well-placed network near the elite. In other words, they’re close to conservative MPs, some bureaucrats, speech-writers and ministerial staffers, who discreetly tell them what’s really happening.

Each is well read, especially on the question of federal affairs, that is, the Liberal-National parties’ article of faith plank that for so long sought to ensure states remained as autonomous as possible from a distant taxpayer-funded and bureaucratically controlled Canberra so they didn’t become its satellites.

In light of this State Scene quizzed each on the prime minister’s April 11 speech, Reflections on Australian Federalism, which should be titled, The Howard Blueprint to Ukrainianise WA, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

The Ukrainian analogy is suggested because Ukraine was briefly independent after the collapse of Czarism in 1917, but fell under Moscow’s grip in the 1920s, about 20 years before the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and East Germany also became Soviet satellites.

But take your pick, since the Howard Ukrainianising blueprint could just as easily be dubbed the Howard Baltic or the Howard East German blueprint.

Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, from the early 1920s until well after 1991 – in some respects until this year’s Orange Revolution – did as the Kremlin dictated.

And the same applied to the Baltic capitals of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, plus Berlin until about the fall of its wall in 1989.

The most interesting thing about the Howard blueprint is that none of State Scene’s three informants knew who wrote it.

All reacted by saying it was awful or terrible, with one adding: “It’s probably the worst Howard’s ever given”.

Well and good. But who wrote it?

Informant one, who knows John Howard and Peter Costello quite well, said: “I don’t know, but the Liberal Party has always had a centralising Billy Hughes wing and those like Bob Menzies or Charles Court who were federalists”.

Often referred to as ‘The ‘Little Digger’, Hughes, for those who have forgotten, was PM from October 1915 to February 1923, firstly as Labor PM, followed by a longer stint as Nationalist (now Liberal) PM.

During the 1930s he was a minister under another former Labor leader but then a conservative PM, Joseph Lyons, and he narrowly lost winning leadership of the conservatives – the United Australia Party (UAP) – to Menzies in 1939, so was almost PM again.

But, like John Howard, he re-emerged to again be conservative leader.

In a biographical essay Perth historian, Professor Geoffrey Bolton, says: “When the [Menzies-led] coalition government was defeated [by Curtin-led Labor] in October 1941 Hughes at last succeeded Menzies as leader of the UAP …”

And the Bolton essay confirms the contention that Hughes, Australia’s most nationalistic leader, promoted enlargement of commonwealth powers, even before becoming PM.

Interestingly, the Howard speech says: “I am, first and last, an Australian nationalist.

“When I think about all this country is and everything it can become, I have little time for state parochialism.”

Although informant one couldn’t cast light on who wrote the centralising Howard speech, he certainly seems to have made an original point about Mr Howard.

Informant two, who knows Costello well, said “I don’t know but I’ll be able to find out”.

As it’s only a fortnight since State Scene asked, let’s wait a while.

Informant three, who knows Howard well, said: “I don’t know but I’ll be in Canberra in a few weeks so will make inquiries”.

Since none knew who wrote the speech, one is probably correct in suspecting Mr Howard has a tiny group that’s involved in gearing him up to Ukrainianise Australia’s four outer states to further ensure the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra axis gains unlimited power over the entire continent.

This seemed further confirmed with last month’s unexpected announcement by Nationals leader, John Anderson, that Canberra would move to gain control over the nation’s ports.

Here’s how The Australian’s national affairs editor, Mike Steketee, who accurately dubbed this move a pre-emptive strike, reported that Canberra grab.

“He didn’t take the issue to cabinet.

“He did not discuss it beforehand with John Howard. He did not consult the states. And he made the announcement two days before a report on export bottlenecks was to due to be handed to the Prime Minister.”

No wonder State Scene’s informants couldn’t advise who wrote the Howard speech.

No-one, it seems, is telling anyone what’s happening in Canberra until the last minute, and even then things are kept extremely close to the chest.

Although it’s therefore too early to state precisely what the Howard-Anderson led conservative elite is up to it’s certainly time to hazard some intelligent guesses.

Both it appears to belong to what’s fairly described as the ‘Little Digger wing’ of the New South Wales conservative establishment; that is, they want greater centralism, greater power for Canberra-NSW over the rest of Australia.

Messrs Howard and Anderson are approaching the end of their political careers, and are becoming impetuous.

They appear to have convened a small team of researchers to tell them how, where and when to strike and that team has probably been sworn to secrecy, which probably explains why it’s so difficult to discover who is writing speeches.

Crucial also is the fact that as they look across Australia they see weak state Liberal and National parties with little or no chance of forming state governments in the foreseeable future, so they’ve decided to act from Canberra.

Age, being impetuous, and despairing about their state conservative counterparts, makes them feel that centralism is all that’s left, something most conservatives, since 1901, have been suspicious of and only reluctantly agreed to see implemented in a limited number of areas of governance.

What neither man nor their mute cabinet and backers realise is that, soon after Hughes left the ALP (while leading the Nationalists), his former party ensured the ALP adopted a centralisation plank calling for scrapping the states entirely and bestowing unlimited powers upon a single chamber national legislature.

This probably explains why no Labor MPs, from Kim Beazley down, is complaining about the Howard-Anderson Ukainianising course.

Both have thus emerged as the latest and possibly most successful centralist promoters since Gough Whitlam failed to realise it in the 1970s.

What a way to wind-up what began as ardently anti-Labor parliamentary careers.


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