07/06/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Howard’s unoriginal agenda

07/06/2005 - 22:00


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A delegate attending a recent Liberal Party rural divisional conference unexpectedly announced he was fed up with living under three tiers of government – national, state and local – and said one should be scrapped.

A delegate attending a recent Liberal Party rural divisional conference unexpectedly announced he was fed up with living under three tiers of government – national, state and local – and said one should be scrapped.

As State Scene heard it, another delegate – who backs limiting Canberra’s powers, sometimes called the first tier – sprang to his feet to explain that Germany’s second tier of government, states like Saxony and Bavaria, was discarded by Adolf Hitler and replaced by smaller units called gaue. These were Nazi Party-controlled regions that helped ensure the Third Reich became an illiberal nation.

This delegate added that, after Hitler’s Germany was defeated the country’s historic states resurfaced and today continue to form the basis of what’s a healthy three-tiered federal system in a liberal nation.

Coincidently, State Scene recently encountered another reference to the Hitler precedence of scrapping the second or state tier that’s worth quoting.

It’s in a document held in the Battye Library’s Sir Hal Colebatch Collection and carries the text of a radio address of Sir Hal’s in 1942 while campaigning against the then Curtin Labor government’s moves to markedly downgrade the states by further boosting Canberra’s powers.

Sir Hal, if not Western Australia’s most learned premier then certainly its most articulate, had visited the Third Reich during the 1930s as WA’s agent-general to London, so was familiar with combative Hitlerian centralist administrative methods that removed the state tier to strengthen Berlin’s hold over all of Germany.

“Always the best government is that in close touch with the people governed,” Sir Hal stated.

“Local self-government is the chief bulwark of a people’s freedom.

“Hitler recognised this and on achieving power his first act was to abolish state parliaments throughout Germany.

“He aimed to destroy the people’s freedom and he knew that as a first step he must wipe out their state parliaments.”

Hitler’s gaue, or regions, were an integral part of his movement’s system of total central control of citizens in the Third Reich, which extended down to blockleiters, that is, party appointees who oversaw residents in apartments and housing complexes, or blocks.

Those heading the gaue – the gauleiters – were Berlin appointees, not elected by the people as had previously occurred when German states and cities were autonomous of central power.

Regular State Scene readers will know that the most recent columns have focused upon the Howard Government’s latest outburst of enthusiasm for further centralisation of Australia.

Now, while neither Mr Howard nor his deputy, Nationals leader John Anderson – both ardent centralisers – have called for the scrapping of the states and their replacement by Canberra-controlled regions, that’s certainly the next inevitable step for an ever-stronger Canberra facing ever-weaker states.

As night follows day with the centre becoming stronger and states weaker, subsequent centralists will seek breaking-up the states into new centrally controlled units.

A day simply must come for a wholesale takeover, a fragmentation, of states if an unending avalanche of intrusion into state affairs by Canberra continues.

Let’s be clear on this point so there’s no misunderstanding.

State Scene isn’t saying the centralising Howard-Anderson conservative duo is leading Australia to a Hitlerian system of government, through Canberra-controlled gaue.


What’s being said is that they’re most definitely leading Australia – because of their latest outburst of enthusiasm for centralisation – to a situation where the states are more likely to be displaced by Canberra-controlled entities.

Put differently, the weaker the states – most especially WA, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania – the greater the likelihood that an ever-stronger Canberra eventually emerges that will seek to create a network of totally centrally controlled regions.

In other words, the Australia that Messrs Howard and Anderson are presently moving us towards is likely to embody a centralist-regionalist system sooner rather than later.

Both men, but most especially Mr Howard, seem determined to move Australia closer to, rather than further from, such a reality.

At a guess, such a future may now be just a few decades away, 2035 or thereabouts.

But it may well happen sooner. State Scene says this for two reasons.

Firstly, during a recent keynote speech titled, Reflections on Australian Federalism, Mr Howard made some quite condescending remarks about traditional Australian state loyalties.

“Australian Liberalism has always been an optimistic creed. It values freedom and initiative over compulsion and conformity…It is a philosophy we bring to areas such as education, healthcare, workplace relations and helping parents find the right balance between work and family life,” he said.

“It is a philosophy with a timeless quality in a world of constant change.

“I believe that part of that change is a greater focus by the Australian people on ties to national and to local community, and less on traditional state loyalties.”

This highlighting of national, or Canberra, and local community, or regional, was certainly deliberate, certainly no accident. And nor was the evident disdain for traditional state loyalties.

Anyone seeing this as rough and illiberal should try another of his pronouncements on the centralist-federalist issue.

During a recent radio interview he said: “I have no doubt that if we were starting this country all over again, we wouldn’t have quite the same structure of government that we now have,” he said.

“We’d have a national government, obviously, and we’d probably have a larger number of regional governments and not have the existing state boundaries …

“I don’t think the system we have in Australia works very efficiently.”

Now, one wouldn’t mind so much if there was something original about either of these anti-state contentions.

But, unfortunately, John Howard is a thoroughly unoriginal politician and an even less original thinker.

What he appears not to realise when pontificating about how Australia should be controlled from Canberra is that his proposals are quite old fashioned, just so outdated.

Moreover, they largely restate what Labor’s failed 1970s leader, Gough Whitlam, attempted to do – to displace the states with centrally-controlled regions, meaning he’s a copy-cat.

And while on originality, nor was Whitlam a shining example of creativity.

His so-called regionalising plan was a straight lift from the late Victorian Labor MP Maurice Blackburn (1880-1944) who, in 1921, got included into Labor’s platform a blueprint to break up the states by creating 36 provinces that would be controlled from Australia’s then about-to-be-built capital, Canberra.

So Mr Blackburn, who saw himself as a leftist (he joined the Australia-Soviet Friendship League) landed Labor with something resembling what the rightist Hitler imposed on the Germans to quench his thirst for central control.

And now John Howard is dabbling with similar outdated ideas.


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