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Shared government for Australia

By Jim Snow - posted Friday, 7 September 2007

Beyond Federation is a group of organisations and individuals who want to move away from the current federal system and particularly from the inefficiency of the second or state tier.

Members agree that the state governments based in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane impose a second layer of unnecessary and burdensome government with their jurisdictions based on inappropriate boundaries. Most members believe that the powers in those states would be better placed with either the national government or with more localised administrations. The government covering Tasmania and those of the territories have more appropriate boundaries than the others but should also be considered in any reform of government.

The members of Beyond Federation have all been looking at alternative ways of dealing with reform, including "Shed a Tier” which would rely on one national government and local municipal councils; and proposals by Klaas Woldring and Charles Mollison which prefer a two-tier, national and regional government system. Those national-regional approaches aim to improve the sovereign power of the people in local and national decision making.


My own proposal is called “Shared Government” and could probably be called unitary government in that there are two sectors of representation in the national parliament, one from the local and one from the national level.

The Shared Government idea has evolved in my mind over about 30 years and gained impetus in my 13 years in the federal parliament. It should only be seen as a contribution to discussion rather than a solution to the federal chaos.

In that time it was clear that while federal parliamentarians represented the people from electorates across the nation in the House of Representatives they did not represent people across the occupational and functional spectrum with some pursuits over-represented and some barely represented at all. Yet what we do is as important to the nation's economy and social well-being as where we live.

It was also clear that a farmer in Tasmania had far more voting power in the Senate than one in western New South Wales, for example.

During that time in the parliament I chaired the government party for three years and examined the legislation covered over that three years. I listed:

  • 15 areas where uniform legislation was warranted and where uniform legislation would not impinge on individual freedoms. They included laws relating to medicines, drugs in sport, international treaties and defamation:
  • four areas where uniform legislation providing more local flexibility was warranted, for example crime, terrorism, shipping; and
  • 20 areas where uniform legislation with increased local options through by-laws was warranted and would increase local freedoms, initiative and power. They included business competition, education, employment, training, health, social services, environment, industrial relations, land transport, tax and forestry.

It was clear that parliamentarians were wasting a lot of time dealing with the same issues that state colleagues were covering and also that they often lacked the links needed with many sectors of the population.

The above three paragraphs illustrate why Shared Government advocates a local and a national sector of government in the national parliament. The local sector would be based on regions or territories or whatever you like to call them. I'll call them territories but have no preference for title. The word “State” is now inappropriate for the states as their powers are whittled away.

Briefly, Shared Government suggests between 20 and 30 regions or territories throughout the nation, each with at least one growth centre or a large, strong and stable town or city. Tasmania would be one territory. Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne would each be one territory. The current state boundaries would have no relevance. For example Mildura in Victoria, Wentworth in NSW and the South Australia Riverland would probably be part of one territory.

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About the Author

Jim Snow is co-convenor of Beyond Federation along with Mark Drummond.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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