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An Independent Queensland Regional & Rural 

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(Cairns... Far North Queensland)


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Selwyn Johnston



One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference




Treasurer Peter Costello has announced that he believes that the Federal Government needs greater powers to effectively manage the Australian economy. The powers he claims that are needed presently reside with the States and presumably his new “Recast Federalism”, as his new proposal has been called, will have to involve one of two things.  

Firstly he will have to go to a referendum to have the Constitution changed or secondly, he will have to have all the States vest all the powers he needs in the Commonwealth. Informal arrangements do not wash as the High Court of Australia has already found in the case of the corporations law. 

Already the Federal Government is talking about making the remittance of GST moneys to the States “conditional”, so it is not out of the question that a little coercion could be in the pipeline, but it would be disastrous for any State Premier to even consider it.  

This latest move by Mr. Costello is not a unilateral act on his part, nor is it a proposal that is out of line with the direction the Prime Minister has defined for this country. This move by the Government, and introduced by the Treasurer, is just another step towards the greater centralisation of power in Canberra and one that is intended to bring Australia closer to the American (republic) style of Government.  

Whether that kind of Government will suit Australia is a very moot point indeed but the present worry is… will we have a say at all. Many now have the gut feeling that such a move would be down a dangerous path from which there may be no return. 

Currently the Federal Government is in the process of increasing its powers in the area of industrial relations. This matter is presently before the High Court and, in time, a decision will be handed down.  

Prior to this the Federal Government relied on a previous decision of the High Court, “The Engineers Case” (Seventy Five Years On) decided on 31 August 1920 for its authority tempered by some level of electoral concern. That case was a watershed as it overturned the then existing concept of the States “reserve powers” a concept that had been enshrined by the original members of the High Court who by this time had either resigned or passed away.  

As to whether or not the Federal Government is looking to establish another “watershed” case with Industrial Relations is only known to the Government but there certainly are ominous signs on the horizon. However, should they succeed with industrial relations, why not infrastructure and services? 

The problem for the electorate however is that both of the major parties would relish increased power in their hands as they would not have the enduring problem of dealing with “recalcitrant” Premiers. State governments are by design closer to the people simply because of the tyranny of distance. Consequently, irrespective of political persuasion, the States are more likely to not only differ with the Commonwealth but also between themselves, as their electorates’ wants and needs will vary. 

As we know the Commonwealth wants centralisation as it believes it can do a better job without the encumbrance of dissent. That is from its point of view of course. Equally if you wish to control a population it can be better done if you only have to control one forum or legislature and of course this is the way the American political system has gone and the ease with which it could be introduced into Australia is now very apparent. 

So in this case, if the Federal Government wants to do the job properly it has to go to a referendum and to do this successfully it has to have bipartisan support. Now, while Kevin Rudd, leader of the Labor Party and Opposition can equivocate on the nub of the matter, which he seems to be doing at least at this early stage, and prattle on about peripheral matters, which he is certainly doing, we need a clear and unequivocal statement from him that he will not pursue or support a similar line to Mr. Costello and Mr. Howard. 

After all, what these party politicians must remember is what we already know and, that is if a new system makes it easier to control the electorate, it is also easier for themselves to be controlled, as in fact has happened in the past. If they feel that they are unable to run the country on a co-operative and consensual basis, then the honourable course of action for them would be to stand aside and let someone else do it.




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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870