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The new federalism [1990]

By Viv Forbes - posted Thursday, 13 June 2013

The last major item on Bob Hawke's secret agenda of unfinished business is to arrange for the funeral of federalism. He has already chosen the dirge - it is called "The New Federalism".

In a world which daily reveals the political depravity and economic bankruptcy that follows the centralised command of society, too many in the ALP still cling to the out-dated vision of "Wagon-wheel Australia" where everyone prostrates daily facing the billion dollar Parliamentary Palace in Canberra.

Australians have inherited two destructive dogmas from our convict and colonial past.


The first is that governments should enforce equality, irrespective of considerations of liberty, justice, or property.

The second is a fear of markets and of non-conformists and a naive belief that centralised regulation by politicians will achieve a better result than decentralised decisions by diverse market operators.

Sovereign states, especially those which develop maverick reputations, are a constant irritant to those who favour enforced equality and bureaucratic control.

Federation has undoubtedly been a failure for Australians.

The chief reason for federation was to enable the states to present a united front in things such as defence and foreign affairs.

However, our defence is laughable and Canberra's power to control foreign affairs has been grossly misused to enable the Commonwealth to intrude into many areas specifically denied it by the constitution. Federalism has given us a swollen, distant, expensive and interfering bureaucracy, a lawless government and a federal army only twice as large as the Australian contingent sent by the separate states to the Boer War (despite a five-fold increase in population).


True federalism, in which no single parliament or government body holds complete power over any person or business, is favourable to democratic freedoms, to competitive economies and to the sharing of power. Business everywhere, especially business in Queensland, should be concerned to protect the best elements of federalism and to attack only its centralist tendencies.

Mr Hawk launched his "New Federalism" in July by announcing a special Premiers conference to "cut duplication" and provide federal funding for a special constitutional committee headed by Sir Ninian Stephen.

Mr Hawke spoke about co-operation and consensus but, as with most political flap-doodle, what was not said is more important than what was said.

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First published in Business Queensland in October 1990 (BQ. 16) and proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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About the Author

Viv Forbes is a geologist and farmer who lives on a farm on the Bremer River.

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