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Australia is naturally suited to a federal system

January 20th, 2017

The age-old idea of abolishing the states has popped up again, this time from Bob Hawke. I’ve recycled some old arguments against this idea in the standard form where the states are to be replaced by regional governemnts. I’ve also added some new points, focused on the undesirability of a unitary state. The piece is at The Conversation, entitled If we scrapped the states, increasing Canberra’s clout would be a backward step

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  1. Matt
    January 20th, 2017 at 11:51 | #1

    The link is taking me to your post on self-driving vehicles.

  2. Smith
    January 20th, 2017 at 11:51 | #2

    Link doesn’t work.

  3. Smith
    January 20th, 2017 at 11:59 | #3

    Anyway, it’s not necessary to read the arguments. Short of a revolution that abolished the constitution, abolishing the states can’t be done in practice, even if it is a good idea in theory.

  4. Douglas Hynd
    January 20th, 2017 at 12:38 | #4

    Very good piece. Your points about the undesirability of the unitary state are really important.
    More detailed work should take into account the ACT for what it tells us about the conditions under which a two tier level of government could be reached by eliminating local government and Brisbane City Council about the limits and possibilities of regionalised local government.

  5. John Quiggin
    January 20th, 2017 at 15:43 | #5


    D’oh! Fixed now.

  6. John Quiggin
    January 20th, 2017 at 15:44 | #6


    Actually, it wouldn’t be impossible to move to an effectively unitary system, given the political will. The constitution allows transfer of state powers to the Commonwealth, and the power of the purse often enables the feds to impose their will even when state governments are reluctant.

    But, it’s a bad idea.

  7. Smith
    January 20th, 2017 at 16:40 | #7

    @John Quiggin

    Transferring powers is one thing. Abolishing the states would require the constitution to be changed through referenda and we all know how that usually goes. Do you think you could find four states in favour? And even amendments to the constitution in the usual way might not do the trick. The states existed as sovereign entities before there was a constitution. You’d have to ask a constitutional scholar how their existence could be extinguished.

  8. wilful
    January 20th, 2017 at 19:35 | #8

    I find the idea to be a useful test of the legitimacy of a political commentator. Given that it can never ever happen, for myriad practical reasons as well as simply being a bad idea, I can effectively screen for poor thinkers by where they stand on the idea.

  9. J-D
    January 20th, 2017 at 20:17 | #9

    Abolishing the Commonwealth would be a better idea (or, equivalently, a less bad one) than abolishing the States.

  10. Jim Rose
    January 20th, 2017 at 22:53 | #10

    British Labour role were all for the supremacy of the House of Commons until they had 15 years of Maggie Thatcher good and hard. They then realised that devolved governments and a stronger House of Lords had many advantages in slowing the other side down when they held the reins of power.

    Constitutional political economy is not about the powers you would give to us and those like us.

    Is about what powers you would trust in the hands of the crazies to the left or right of you when they get the turn on the treasury benches as they will every 3, 6 or 9 years. Shared power is inevitable in modern democracies.

  11. rog
    January 21st, 2017 at 05:52 | #11

    Good piece. ATM the role of the Crown is shared between the federal and state govts. Abolishing the states would hand all powers to Canberra, which would require a redrafting of if not new constitution. It would also place enormous power in the hands of the sovereign ie the Governor General.

  12. Douglas Hynd
    January 21st, 2017 at 08:16 | #12

    an argument for the states is on the policy front – ACT through creative renewable energy policy has given momentum to the expansion of renewable energy with a creative policy that is now being picked up by other states while the Commonwealth has sat on its hands on the issue

  13. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2017 at 11:06 | #13

    I agree with J.Q., he sums it up. There is nothing to add.

  14. Jim Rose
    January 21st, 2017 at 11:32 | #14

    @rog One of the great advantages of laboratory federalism is other jurisdictions can observe the folly of others and not repeat them such as tokenism on solar power and the enormous expense of wind power in South Australia.

  15. rog
    January 22nd, 2017 at 18:01 | #15

    @Jim Rose I don’t accept your assertions so please don’t include me in them.

  16. Greg McKenzie
    January 23rd, 2017 at 07:17 | #16

    The founders of federalism, in ancient times, soon abandoned the experiment when warfare ravaged their lands. The Ancient Romans tried it, with their client cities, but abandoned it
    for military dictatorship. When the Europeans began to revive federalism, constant invasions made it fail and they too used military solutions. When the British tried it, they turned federalism into the servant of materialism. As inheritors of British style federalism, our system serves
    Business interests first and foremost. The competition for industrial relocations is just one example, but shows up federalism for what it really is in Australia. Of course, we are now affected by American values and one such value is best summed up as: “The business of government is business”. Certainly this value is shared by our current government in Canberra and not a few of the State and Territory governments.

  17. Jim Rose
    January 23rd, 2017 at 10:32 | #17

    Joh Bjelke-Petersen used to say the only good tax was a federal tax.

    Those of us who have lived in Canberra will be well aware of the crap road linking Canberra with the Hume Highway for many years because not that many New South Wales voters used to drive along it.

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