11/03/2010 - 00:00

Mismanagement writ large: Part II

11/03/2010 - 00:00


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The Liberals’ centralist urges should be of concern to the true believers.

WITH a federal election due this year, the inevitable question is whether a Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop-led team would reduce Canberra-initiated mismanagement, waste and extravagance.

Or could we expect continued centralist financial fiascos like the $2.45 billion housing insulation program, even if perhaps not as singularly colossal.

State Scene dearly wishes to report that there’s light at the end of the ever-costly Canberra tunnel.

Unfortunately, this won’t and can’t happen, because the Liberals have embraced wasteful centralism.

Consider their individual records.

Firstly, Mr Abbot and Ms Bishop were ministers during the Howard era, which was the most centralising and biggest taxing Australian government up to 2008.

Does anyone recall either of them speaking out against the growing intrusiveness of Canberra’s bureaucracies into the affairs of the states?

Ms Bishop’s record here certainly isn’t encouraging. She also backed former leader Malcolm Turnbull’s hardline support for the Rudd government’s carbon tax on all energy usage, and voted to retain him as leader after Mr Abbott challenged.

In other words, she ignored the thousands of emails, phone calls, and letters, sent by Liberal rank-and-file members around Australia beseeching that the Rudd carbon tax on everything be blocked.

Ms Bishop thus ignored the forgotten people who’d spoken out, so is unlikely to ever transform herself into a font of hope and inspiration in reversing Canberra’s protracted drive to further duplicate and crowd-out state government activities.

She’s a drifting centralist, pure and simple, which suggests that, like Mr Turnbull, she’d be as comfortable in a Rudd-Julia Gillard ministry as in one chaired by Mr Abbott.

The clearest sign of this is that Ms Bishop backed Mr Turnbull and his adherence to Ruddism, an approach that prompted one commentator to coin the term, ‘Ruddbullism’, which so aptly encapsulates her political inclinations.

Ms Bishop is, at rock bottom, Canberra’s woman in Perth, not the other way round.

She knows not the meaning of the word ‘federalism’, and appears to care even less.

What of Mr Abbott?

Here, matters are far worse.

Not only did he back all Mr Howard’s centralist moves, he’s written two chapters in separate books hailing his former leader’s approach.

In the first, ‘Inside the Howard Cabinet’, carried in, The Howard Era, (Ed. Keith Windschuttle, David Jones and Ray Evans), there’s no mention of Canberra’s constant power-grabbing.

In the second, ‘A Tale of Two Governments’, in his book, Battlelines (which should be titled, Surrender, since it advocates the further downgrading of the states as governing entities without as much as a fight), the word ‘centralism’ is absent from the index.

That, quite frankly, is amazing, since Battlelines carries a four-page appendix headed: ‘A Bill to Amend the Constitution’, that’s sub-headed ‘Constitution Alteration [Commonwealth and State Powers] Bill’.

What Mr Abbott has done here is present a draft bill he’s draw-up that sets out how he’d like to see Canberra steadily displace Australia’s six historic or foundation states, which together created the Australian federal nation.

Like Mr Rudd, Mr Abbott wants the offspring to devour its parents.

All Western Australians should study his draft bill since it shows that he, ostensibly a Liberal like Ms Bishop, has embraced the old-style Labor policy of scrapping the states.

His predisposition fits snugly into the tradition of the late Labor hardline leftist, Maurice Blackburn, who, in the 1920s, drew-up a blueprint to displace state governments with a single chamber parliament in Canberra having “unlimited power”.

That’s precisely the blueprint the Whitlam government used when it created regions across Australia with each of 112 regions answerable only to Canberra bureaucrats – effectively bypassing state parliaments and governments.

Mr Abbott’s centralising path resembles the Whitlam mould. Not coincidentally, both men, and Mr Howard, are Sydneysiders.

So many Sydneysiders – Liberal and Labor – still think like the late NSW premier, Sir George Dibbs (1834-1904), who opposed a federal constitution embodying equal partnership of the states as its cornerstone, which men like Edmund Barton and WA’s federal convention delegations sought and helped fashion.

Dibbs wanted NSW to become the pre-eminent player and power, alongside Victoria, which until 1851 was part of NSW, by its side.

The way Dibbs envisaged this evolving was for NSW and Victoria to create a single entity, after which the outer states – Queensland Tasmania, WA and SA – would have to negotiate their way into this dual dominant union and be bequeathed minor constitutional roles; fewer senators, perhaps.

Although Mr Abbott hasn’t spelled out precise details of his vision, presumably his proposed Constitution Alteration [Commonwealth and State Powers] Bill, could even slash the number of the other states’ senators.

Moreover, Mr Abbott, like Mr Whitlam before him, is favourably disposed to the states breaking their historic links with the former Imperial Parliament in London, Westminster, which had earlier created them with Canberra to take over those constitutional links, ensuring the states have independent status.

This would inevitably mean prime ministers would have both the final say on who became a state governor, and would take charge of all reserve state constitutional powers.

The states would become Canberra’s, and thus Sydney’s, satellites. They would no longer be independent sovereign entities.

The last time we saw such a blatant power grab was in 1973-4, when Mr Whitlam and former senator, and subsequently High Court Judge, Lionel Murphy, approached London for this fundamental power turn-around.

That move immediately prompted all then state premiers – Labor, Liberal and National – to fly to London to argue vigorously against the Whitlam-Murphy plan, which it seems Mr Abbott is keen on reviving.

Clearly an Abbott-Bishop-led Liberal Party is not only in step with the centralising Howard years, but shows signs of aligning with the even more turbulent Whitlam ones.

But there’s another crucial point worth highlighting.

Not only is Mr Abbott a Catholic – something that too often prompts uncalled-for snide remarks because he’d studied for the priesthood – but his centralist urge is both out of step with the Liberal Party’s traditional federalist stance and contradicts Catholic social teaching.

Modern Catholic social thought, which Mr Abbott would undoubtedly have encountered as a trainee priest, as laid-out by one of the church’s greatest modern Popes, Leo XIII (1820-1903), and his key adviser, Mainz’s Bishop Emmanuel von Ketteler (1811-77), and later refined by German Jesuit theologian and sociologist, Oswald von Nell-Breuning (1890-1991), rejects centralism.

Catholic social thought promotes the crucially important tenet of subsidiarity, a principle that advocates the practice of governance by “the smallest, lowest or least centralised component authority” and that “political decisions should be taken at the local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.”

Adherence to subsidiarity explains why the Catholic Church opposed Adolf Hitler’s centralist moves against Germany’s historic or traditional states, the ‘Landes’, that the Nazis replaced with Berlin-created and controlled ‘Gaue’ (regions), and the power-hungry Leninist ‘democratic centralism’ doctrine that ensured the Soviet Union was directed in all matters from Moscow.

This crucial tenet of Australian Liberalism and Catholicism has gone so far over Mr Abbott’s head that he’s embraced their opposite, meaning he’s destined to impose more Canberra bureaucratic overload and over-reach, with costly mismanagement writ large set to persist



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