Reforming government in Australia

Reason Two: The states arose in Australia from the original colonies for real geographical reasons. Distances between major regions in

Reforming government in Australia


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800,000, both sensible sizes for states under the new arrangements. The new Australasian Commonwealth of 10 states would have a population of about 23 million by the year 2000, have a large and diverse domestic market, and be a significant power in world affairs.


Renaming the states


I have made some proposals for renaming some of the states, in the spirit of the aphorism often used by Karl Marx, "history is whole cloth". Taken as a whole, the names of the states should represent both geographical elements and historical elements covering the whole history of the country.

The name Queensland is preserved and Macquarie introduced to recognise the imperial British element that is a real part of Australasian history. On the other hand Pemulway and Mannix are introduced to recognise major and decisive elements in our history previously unrepresented in state names. Tasmania is appropriate as Abel Tasman was Dutch, and can be taken to represent the non-British migrant contribution to Australasia. I believe that my spectrum of state names is a nice mix, representing the real Australasia as it now is.


Democratic considerations


The democratic benefits of these realistic geographical rearrangements are considerable. All the areas transferred from one state or another, or to new states, are remote from the centre of government in their states under the present arrangements, and always would be so, and in every case their real geographical ties are much greater with the state that they are coming into under the new arrangements.

This circumstance will give the parliamentarians they elect much greater influence and clout in looking after the interests of the constituents in the area they represent. This is obvious for the two new states, but its also obvious for the areas transferred. The Broken Hill area, for instance, would have far more clout in a parliament in Adelaide than it currently has in a parliament in Sydney. The Albury area would have far more clout in a parliament in Melbourne than one in Sydney. The Lismore area would have greater clout in Brisbane than Sydney, etc, etc. The people in all these areas would get more effective political representation than under the present arrangements.


Land management, planning, financial and geographical considerations


A number of these flow from the democratic considerations mentioned above, but a number stand on their own feet. For instance, Centralia, being composed of areas with similar climatic and agricultural regimes, predominantly a bit arid, will be able to concentrate on research and land management directed at one kind of problem. Whereas Capricornia, being the tropical north, would be able to concentrate its resources on another set of problems.

One important consideration is to attempt, as far as possible consistent with other necessities, to bring important catchment areas of major river systems into one state. This is particularly the case in the central Murray region, where having opposite sides of the Murray in different states has become a real problem in organising effective measures to tackle the salinity problem.

In addition to this, the focus in this set of proposals around existing geographical realities provides for realistic development perspectives without the financial blowout that would come from unrealistic further subdivision into major regions. The kind of scheme I advance here is, in fact, the only realistic framework for further regionalisation in Australia.




On first consideration, a proposal to merge Canberra with NSW may seem like a bit of a long shot. However, it has a lot to recommend itself, both to Canberra residents and other Australians. If Canberra was a large city municipal area in a smaller NSW, there would be at least five or six Canberra MLAs in a state parliament, which would give them considerable clout on matters suchas allocation of funds.

Presently the Commonwealth doles out funds to Canberra in a very arbitrary way, sometimes too much, and sometimes too little, and Canberra suffers from that kind of arbitrary remote federal planning. Presently, with Commonwealth funding cuts, Canberra is in a dramatic slump, with high unemployment, sluggish business activity, empty shops and houses and very depressed housing prices.

In Canberra the Commonwealth government is still subdividing land and planning suburbs for the distant future, which contributes to a chronic oversupply of housing, thereby depressing housing prices for present inhabitants. Being just a normal part of the state of NSW, and thereby freed from the worst aspects of mad Commonwealth forward "planning", Canberra residents would benefit.

People such as state public servants and teachers would benefit from the possibility of normal transfer rights to other parts of NSW etc, etc. Canberra would become a normal place of federal public service activity, like Sydney or Melbourne, without the incongruous and unsatisfactory special status that irritates people in other areas, and works against the interests of the people who live and work in Canberra.

Being a viable and real part of a lively, diverse and forward-looking state as the new smaller NSW would be, is likely to be much more attractive to Canberra people than being part of an artificial independent statelet a bit like the Hutt River Province in Western Australia.


Democratic electoral improvements in the states, the commonwealth and local government. Bring on the republic, fast!

The ridiculous republican stalemate should be resolved fast with this simple but feasible reform. First of all, the Governor General and all state governors should be immediately abolished. They should be replaced by a Commonwealth president and two vice-presidents, all elected by the people in one panel for eight years.

This presidential council should have the powers of head of state in the Commonwealth and the states. The council's limited powers should be totally ceremonial, except for severely limited reserve powers to resolve governmental crises in the Commonwealth or the states, which should be exercised by majority vote of the presidential council.

The useful ceremonial functions could be divided between the three, which would dramatically reduce the cost of the largely ceremonial but still useful presidential role without abolishing it entirely. A president and two vice-presidents, between them, could quite effectively make all the necessary public appearances nationwide in that role. A presidential council of three would also allow for some diversity in sex and ethnicity.


Merge the two houses of each parliament


Merging the two houses would substantially reduce the cost of government, and remove obstacles and gridlock in government.

Government in Australia has become more chaotic and less decisive because of the incongruities of the two-chamber system. While this has had some more or less accidental benefits, such as the blocking of the sale of Telstra, it is becoming increasingly anachronistic.

The upper houses, in the states and the commonwealth, were originally bastions of reaction. But, due to democratic reforms, largely the introduction of elected members and in some states proportional representation, some of them have, paradoxically, become arenas in which previously excluded minorities get some representation.

This has a certain desirability as a useful control and modification on an essentially two-party system, but the existence of two separate houses makes the process of government erratic and problematic and often results in gridlock.

A desirable and sensible resolution of all these problems would be to merge the two houses of parliament in the states and the Commonwealth. In the states the electoral principle should be two-thirds of the members elected by the preferential system in individual electorates and one third by the proportional representation system that prevails in the NSW upper house.

When this change is made, the number of politicians in each state could be trimmed back a bit for cost reasons. A combination of individual electorates, with a third elected under PR would tend to preserve the major Labor/Conservative division, while giving smaller groups reasonable representation.

All the negotiations for coalitions etc would have to take place in the one house of parliament, providing greater governmental stability. The same method of election should prevail for a one-chamber Commonwealth parliament, also reducing the numbers a bit, with the difference that a PR component should be elected state by state, as the Senate is now elected.

The elimination of the bureaucracy for two chambers in each parliament, and a modest reduction in representatives, would enable lower costs of government. It is quite important to present the above position as a merger of the two houses of parliament, rather than the abolition of the upper house. The merger of the two houses is much more likely to be accepted by the electorate than the abolition of upper houses.


Local government


Local government is perhaps the most important sphere of government because it is closest to the people. Nevertheless, it's perceived to be in a deep-rooted state of crisis.

The Kennett government in Victoria tried to resolve this crisis in an essentially undemocratic way by amalgamations of municipalities into very large bodies, but introducing a first-past-the-post voting system, which allows no checks and balances.


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