Image: Former PM, Bob Hawke; "Missed it by that much
The recent release of cabinet documents from thirty years ago has given two former Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating another five minutes of fame and has allowed Bob to feed his delusions of relevance to the point where he feels he still has what it takes to give us a bit of gratuitous advice on how the country should be run.
Predictably, he has chosen the favorite theme of centralist PMs from time immemorial, abolition of the states. Ever since federation, federal governments have had their drive for total control frustrated the states holding onto powers that in the eyes of federal politicians could best be handled on a one size fits all basis by them. Bob has presented much of the same nonsense that has gone before:
BOB Hawke has called for the abolition of the states in the interest of achieving more effective government, and has urged politicians, business and unions to work closer together on reform in the national interest.
The former Labor prime minister said it was of lasting regret that he had been unable to forge agreement on a national framework for indigenous land rights while in government, mainly because of the opposition of the West Australian Labor government led by Brian Burke.
"Of course you would be better off without the states," the former prime minister told The Australian in a wide-ranging interview to coincide with the release of cabinet documents from his first two full years as prime minister.
"We have a set of governments that represent the meanderings of the British explorers over the face of the continent over 200 years ago. They drew lines on a map and then said that is how Australia is going to be governed. If you were drawing up a system of government for Australia today, in ideal terms, what we have got now is the last thing you would have.”
Colonial explorers had little if anything to do with the drawing up of the state boundaries, but it is not uncommon for creatures of politics to present new visions of the past that fit their causes better than reality does.
There is a great case for reduction of the degree to which Australians are governed, however it doesn’t necessarily follow to assume that the answer is the abolition of one level. Each level of government is put in place to deal with issues coming under their jurisdiction in such a way as best suits the local population, at least in theory.
Ideology can make a mockery of this principle, but local or state governments, which get too out of step with public sentiment in their area can be thrown out a lot easier than a national government.
Hawke is arguing that the absence of states would make governing the whole nation easier with less dissent than the current system. This is a logical perspective if seen from the point of view of a person who wishes to run the lot, rather than that of the rest of us who are expected to accept that rule.
The problem with such a system is that a single solution or policy will not suit the needs of all communities. Even within states themselves, ideas that work fine in the capitals can in some cases have little relevance in the provincial towns, and are best ignored in the rural areas where circumstances are totally different.
The problem of overgovernment in Australia is not one of too many governments per se, but one of duplication in the various levels that we have, and of those governments involving themselves in too many activities. The federal government on its own has thirty ministers most with multiple portfolios, which indicates an overzealousness in regulation.
Nearly all of these are duplications of ministries in state governments across the country. Areas such as health, education, transport, infrastructure, resources and energy, indigenous affairs, environment and so on are all handled at state level and are duplicated federally. All of these matters should be handled at the lower level and the feds should leave it to them so that better solutions can be reached, if they are needed at all under a system of competitive federalism.
Probably the most ridiculous example is that of local government. A local government covers every area in the nation. A minister for local government duplicates this in all states. As if this is not enough, the effort is triplicated at federal government level by Simon Crean as Minister for Local government, regional Australia, regional development, and the arts.
That’s right; even the arts have a minster at federal level, state level, and most local governments also piss money against the wall to be seen to be promoting 'thyarts'.