25/04/2006 - 22:00

States’ end is Howard’s way

25/04/2006 - 22:00


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State Scene has encountered all sorts of forgotten items in the process of sorting dozens of files compiled over nearly 20 years.

State Scene has encountered all sorts of forgotten items in the process of sorting dozens of files compiled over nearly 20 years.

One, from November 1987, was the transcript of a talk by former Western Mining Corporation chief, Hugh Morgan.

He was addressing South Yarra’s Liberal branch. His topic: “Was Federation a Mistake?”

Now, there are still some who believe Western Australia, in 1900, was mistaken when it voted to give so many of its powers to a distant, east coast-based central government.

Here’s what Mr Morgan said of that fateful decision.

“WA was a very reluctant party to federation, only the influx of miners in the Goldfields, from the eastern states, carried the referendum and by a very small margin.

“In 1906 and again in 1933 there were widely supported attempts by WA to secede.”

But WA wasn’t alone.

He pointed out that, in the 1898 federation referendum, “most Sydney electorates voted against federation”.

“In 1899, after NSW had been promised the site of the national capital, another referendum produced a rather small majority in NSW for federation,” Mr Morgan said.

“This majority was so small that if 13,000 voters had swung, the referendum would have been defeated.

“Queensland, likewise, was unenthusiastic. If 4,000 voters had swung in Queensland the proposal would have been defeated there.

“Only Victoria was really enthusiastic and zealous for federation.”

These forgotten figures show Australia’s creation wasn’t exactly a done deal.

That said, Mr Morgan next said something State Scene can’t recall encountering elsewhere, something that’s convincing.

He said the thing that really fused Australians was the armed forces, most especially the army.

So, not the unions, political parties, the churches, common Anglo-Celtic ethnicity, or business communities, but rather Australia’s fighting men, and steadily, fighting women.

This original view is worth reiterating nearly 20 years after being first stated.

“It’s clear the great success of federation has been the outstanding achievements of Australia’s armed forces,” Mr Morgan said.

“The record of the Australian Army in Gallipoli, in France, the Australian Light Horse in the Middle East, during the Great War of 1914-18, subsequently in Africa, South-East Asia, in Papua-New Guinea; and later still in Korea and Vietnam, is a record which all Australians can be extremely proud.

“I’ve singled out the Army, and this has been unfair to the Navy and Air Force. It was the Army in which most Australians served and the other services tend to be neglected.

“Defence was one of the main issues which lay behind the federation movement.

“If federation had failed in 1899, it seems likely it would have succeeded after World War I, or if not then, in 1939.”

He then considered economic affairs to assess whether federation had helped or hinder Australia’s economic endeavours. In other words, was federating worth it?

According to Mr Morgan: “Instead of healthy competition continuing in various ways between the various colonies” (now states) over the period 1901-1914, “a political monopoly was imposed by the new federal parliament.”

That “political monopoly” further tightened after 1914 and continues being tightened today in most areas: environment; workplace conditions; education; health; child care; transport; and now even water resources.

It is, therefore, worth asking why Canberra’s performance can be so abysmal in defence and directly related responsibilities, including foreign relations and migration, which were the primary reasons most backed federation.

Look at how Australia’s diplomats, federal police and intelligence agencies have been at a loss, for years, in handling those entering the country without documentation, generally by sea.

The outcome of this failure by those arms of the central government has meant we now have a network of costly barbed-wired detention centres – similar to the wartime prisoner-or-war camp at Marrinup, near Dwellingup – debilitating national morale and our culture.

If these agencies were on top of their jobs, people crossing up to six national borders before reaching Australian waters – not to mention coast – would have been unable to do so.

The same applies to policing Australia’s fishing zones.

Canberra has shown it is simply not up to defending these either.

Yet defence of the realm – in the complete sense of that term – was the primary reason for federating.

Labor leader Kim Beazley promotes the idea of a coast guard to complement the navy, as in the US.

Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps yet another Canberra duplicating bureaucracy is needed.

Judging Canberra on past performances in so many other areas upon which it has encroached, however, one would be brave to count on that.

State Scene says nothing of AWB Ltd’s sanctions busting which, amazingly, Australia’s three most senior ministers – Messrs Howard, Vaile, and Downer – plus a raft of top trade and foreign affairs bureaucrats were allegedly completely ignorant of.

It’s as if Australia is on autopilot in the foreign affairs, trade, migration and external policing areas, with those allegedly in charge seeing, hearing, and knowing nothing.

And those very same ministers show no sign of holding back their interference in state areas such a health, education, transport and environment, to name a few.

Recently, Perth lawyer academic Professor Greg Craven pointed out that moves by the avidly centralising Howard government to extend its powers via corporations law will mean markedly more power for Canberra bureaucrats over the states.

So determined is the Howard government to snatch more powers for its distant bureaucratic armoury that a High Court challenge is now under way, although Mr Howard alleges this will only impact on industrial relations.

Professor Craven rightly contended: “The most important thing about the case is nothing to do with industrial relations; it’s the fact that if the IR law turns out to be valid, the High Court will give the Commonwealth a blank cheque.

“This is really the last stand for the states.

“If they lose this case, basically it means that the balance of power is no longer written in the Constitution, it’s just whatever the Commonwealth says it is on any particular day.”

In other words, Mr Howard is kicking along the Labor Party’s 1921 unification planks to transform Australia’s federation into a unitary state with one over-arching capital city calling the tune over an entire continent.

In 1930s Germany this was called Ein Reich, with Germany’s states effectively degutted, like Australia’s are now being.

What was Sydneysider John Howard’s response to this when confronted on it during his last fundraising Perth visit?

Predictably, he contradicted Professor Craven without offering supporting evidence, since there isn’t any.

“I’m not a centralist,” Mr Howard exclaimed, “I’m a nationalist.”

Wow, precisely, he believes in one nation – Ein Reich – not a nation with a diversity of ways and means of governance.

The other word for such diversity is federalism.

Another word for centralist, which he denies being, is, you guessed it, nationalist.

Nationalists, especially integral ones like Mr Howard, have never respected diversity or traditional loyalties and governing arrangements.

Clearly those reluctant 1890s Western Australians, who feared falling under the complete sway of a single all-powerful central government, were more prescient than they’ve been credited.

It’s time Canberra vacated wholesale legislative areas it’s encroached upon, so that it, among other things, can properly attend to the matters it was created to do, such as defence.

With WA’s Liberal senators no longer committed to the federal compact, to ensure it’s not displaced by burdensome centralism, can we expect Labor’s Canberra-based MPs to take up that baton?

Not likely. WA has been and is being double-crossed.

Get used to the states being further run-down to be quietly scrubbed off school atlases by about 2030.

The way Howard’s Canberra is moving, our children’s children won’t know there was once a WA that people were patriotically loyal to.


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