Prime minister sauron

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Last updated on June 15th, 2017 at 01:35 pm

Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, recently put forward the idea that more power should be given to the Federal government and taken away from the States:

There are times when tensions can arise within Australian liberalism’s traditional commitment to limited government. This Government recognises that dispersal of power is basic to our philosophy. But so is leaning against an over-governed Australia – something that can become all too apparent in a federal system with eight Labor governments.

This is a pretty amazing development, and I’d be interested to hear what American conservatives think of this bid to centralize power.

It’s very funny to watch the man who argued so strongly and successfully against an Australian Republic now arguing for this change and watching most of the right fall in line behind him.

That is, having decided that an Australian as head of state was too big a risk to Constitutional stability, that tradition and good governance required that we keep a bunch of inbred Poms at the top of our Constitutional tree, the prime minister has now decided that that whole Federalism thing can go.  You know, the basic governmental structure of the nation.

Suggest for a minute that this has anything to do with a power grab, that it mysteriously appears as a goal when every state government is of a different political hue to that of the prime minister, and that it is voiced at precisely the moment the Federal Government is about to get control of the Senate, and no doubt the clever dicks on the right will label you a Howard hater.

As they always do in the absence of, you know, an actual argument.

Mr Howard dresses up his centralizing plans in the rhetoric of giving more freedom to individuals.  Of course he does.  But it’s a pretty funny idea that allows individual freedom to be equated with a more powerful central government.  Even his line about Australia being over-governed is pure wind in that he doesn’t want to lessen the role of government per se, just shift some of the functions currently fulfilled by States to the Federal government in Canberra.

I’m just trying to imagine George W. Bush arguing that he is going to give more freedom to Americans by increasing the power of Washington.

Unlike some on the left, however, I don’t think Mr Howard is being particularly hypocritical in this power grab.  Although he has previously criticized Labor governments for their use of the external powers clause of the constitution (a way for the federal government to override State responsibilities in certain areas) he has always been a control freak.  Just look at how he runs his own office, not to mention his government, the most one-person-centric government in Australian history.

So having assumed more power to himself than any previous prime minister, it is hardly surprising that he is looking to other sources to sate him.

Mr Howard’s real problem, then, is not hypocrisy but hubris.

And nothing quite says hubris like I’m going to usurp some of the powers of the States.  John Howard has clearly figured that he is unbeatable for the time being and that he can therefore do pretty much as he likes.  This is not only apparent in the end-of-Federalism push but in the mounting string of broken promises that he casually deploys.

(Still, who knows, now that he is creating a fiefdom in Canberra, he might actually decide to live there.)

Personally, I’m of the view that government power should be dispersed and that federalism is a good way of achieving that goal.  The risks of over-government are best addressed in limiting the powers of all governments, not by concentrating power to the center.  We could begin, for instance, by rethinking the tax code and, oh I don’t know, getting governments out of our bedrooms and off our bodies.

Not everyone on the left has a problem with allowing the federal government to assume more power, for pretty much the reasons—oh irony—that Mr Howard outlines.  And even I would agree that there is a case for rethinking the division of powers.

But Mr Howard’s little plan is not for such a rethink, simply for a shift of function from one level of government to another.

Still, if it is going to happen then we have to deal with it, and all in all there seems to be only one sensible reaction for the Labor party and those in the broader left to take: complete compliance.

If John Howard wants to concentrate political power in the federal government, then I think we (the broad left) should embrace the move as our own.  Despite what Howard and his rather short-sighted, power-grabbing core supporters might think, the Libs are not going to be in power forever and it would be very nice, Labor should argue, to have all that centralized power waiting for them when eventually they return to government.  Even if its ten years hence.

Then, when that (Labor) government starts implementing a whole lot of policies that the right hates, we mean-hearted lefties will have the added satisfaction of being able to say that they couldn’t have done it without the help of the overweening hubris of little Johnny.

Sounds sweet to me.

The point I’m making is that, if you don’t want people of a different ideological persuasion to yourself getting extra powers then you have to oppose such plans even when they are proposed by your side.

The question that arises, then, is this: Are there any honest conservatives out there who will call this power-grab for what it is and condemn the prime minister for his hubris?

Posted by Tim Dunlop on 04/17/2005 at 10:20 AM
    1. OK, I’m guessing this is a TimD post.  Ah, yes, there we are.

      TimD, while as an American, I can’t claim a detailed knowledge of what goes on in Australian internal politics, my initial response is to say, ‘welcome to my world.’ The overriding of state authority by the federal government is a common complaint here.  On the other hand, we hear about things such as the local “hate-speech” laws enacted in places such as Victoria, which would be readily challenged as civil-rights violations in the US.  So do we consider this as a pre-emption to the power of the Australian state governments or as an attempt to counterbalance an existing political overreach in those states through the assertion of the federal authority?

      The point I’m making is that, if you don’t want people of a different ideological persuasion to yourself getting extra powers then you have to oppose such plans even when they are proposed by your side.

      … seems to me simplistic, since it requires people to not on matters they deem important while assuming their opposition will do the same, an assumption that seems unwarranted in light of Labor and its allies’ documented behavior in those areas where they have exercised authority.

      As to whether either party has any right to that sort of centralized power, well, it would be a lovely libertarian dream if no one did, but that’s not likely to happen (I’m in the middle of reading L. Neil Smith’s libertarian fantasia The American Zone and it’s only convincing me that a “truly” libertarian society can’t work), but calling on the other side to exercise a restraint your own side has not shown is seldom a successful tactic.

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/17 at 10:47 AM • #


    1. Hey, wait a minute, I thought your first post was going to be about the movie idea you pitched earlier. You know, the dick that destroyed civilisation. What’s the God damn deal?

      Posted by S Whiplash on 04/17 at 10:53 AM • #


    1. G’day Tim (noting use of big T),

      I basically agree with you that Howard is exhibiting hubris on this, but it is an incredibly common form of hubris in Canberra.  Several times a year I find myself having to explain the constitutional limits on Federal power to people in the Federal departmental structure.

      I am a physicist not a lawyer, but I keep finding myself working with people who think that Federal law can override state law on their whim.

      Even if Labor was fully complicit in this, it is a bit of a mug’s game trying to predict how the High Court would rule on too naked a power grab.  They have a tendency to lean (slightly) towards centralisation, but think what happened with challenges to national corporations law.  Even if the COAG agreed, it could still get knocked back by legal challenges that have black-letter law on their side.

      Howard could only succeed with a series of amendments to the constitution and I’m sure you know what his chances of getting that up are like (even if all the states came on board).

      By the way – this is a much better post than you have been putting up on your site recently – good stuff.

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 10:55 AM • #


    1. There are plenty of conservatives who would agree with this, and you’re right that this can play into the left’s hands.

      This is, in fact, a mistake the right has made before—for example, various Tory governments, including Thatcher’s, centralized a lot of power in the UK in order to neutralize the loony left who were using the powers of local councils to set their agendas. Now we find that many of those people (or at least those with similar views) have migrated to the central government bodies that now wield power, while the Labour government uses the extra powers the central government now has to run every part of the country as it sees fit. So it’s all backfired on the Tories, who are now crying out how powers should be returned to the local councils.

      What is needed (in my view) is not a re-allocation of governmental powers, but a *reduction* of powers (in non-core areas). A conservative government should do everything it can to reduce the overall power of government—whether state or federal—to interfere in business, for example, or to run schools.

      (This, I note, is what Howard is sort of claiming to do in his article you link to—he’s says, for example, “The goal is to free the individual, not to trample on the states”—so it may be that my argument here is beside the point. I don’t really know the details of what Howard is actually proposing to do, because the article itself is short on detail, so I’m not clear on how relevant my comments are. I’m just responding to your challenge, and saying that in principle I agree to some extent).

      Posted by Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny on 04/17 at 11:02 AM • #


    1. OK, what are the powers that are being grabbed? I read the whole Oz article and it seemed to me to be short of substance and longggg on rhetoric.

      He wants a simpler consistent set of Industrial relations rules (hear hear).

      He’s tried to get them by negotiation, and no soap (bloody-minded politicians of opposite pursuasions, and I don’t just mean those in State Govt).

      He says he doesn’t want to grab powers “properly belonging to the states” but that he’s not a fanatical states-rightist.(neither am I, but I’m *not* convinced that Industrial Relations aren’t in the States’ domain)

      Is that all there is?

      If so, it’s a tempest in a teapot. FWIW I’m agin ramming anything down the throat of the States, the Federal Govts power of dispensing tax revenues is powerful enough, thanks. But neither do I think the nation will collapse if it goes ahead, even if the next Govt is ALP.

      Sounds to me like there’s a bit too much idealogically-driven policy making for my liking in the Liberal party right now, and not enough pragmatism. But only a bit.

      I suspect that “simpler” in this case means “Thatcherite”. I hope not.

      Compared to the colossal train-wreck that’s the ALP, or the moonbattery in the Greens, it’s a minor blemish.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 11:04 AM • #


    1. G’day Alan,

      As noted above, even in an area where almost everybody agrees that it is better to have a consistent set of national controls and regulations (Corporations Law) – the High Court has ruled that it remains a state reponsibility under the constitution.  Any attempt to “federalise” the state awards system is likely to fall at the same High Court hurdle.

      Same thing would happen if there is overreach in the areas of health or education – the Feds can control the purse strings they just can’t take management control.

      p.s. I am the Russell (Burden) that broke his neck driving home to Melbourne after staying with you in Downer twenty years ago.

      I am bored in my hotel room in Vienna – what is your excuse for being up at 2:00am Canberra time.

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 11:19 AM • #


    1. Tim, the United States is already a republic, and has been for years.  Look at the much-discussed-of-late Pledge Of Allegiance, which states in part, “…and for the Republic for which it stands…

      One of the principal reasons that we fought the Civil War (besides slavery) was in fact over state rights.

      So it’s really difficult for us to comment on a bid to centralize power when this particular argument took place 150+ years ago.  At least, in terms of responding to your outrage.  My initial response: “And your point is…..?”

      But I can see that you are concerned, given that this is a major change for Australia.  Indeed, I hope it doesn’t go down the road that it did for us!  But you could learn from our experience since the war—a mixed bag, but still with value.

      This has been a mixed blessing for America.  On the one hand, it’s easier to right wrongs.  Slavery and civil rights are but two examples.  On the other hand, it’s been a pain dealing with an entrenched national bureacracy that applies a uniform solution to different problems.  I worked for a Federal agency, so I’ve seen it both ways.

      But the Federal government does not have exclusive control over these areas.  In some cases, in spite of Federal law, states have initial jurisdiction.  Environmental laws, for example.  Some are federal, some are state or local.  It varies with the location and situation.

      Jurisdiction is decided through precendence, negotiation, bureaurcratic fiat, or legal proceedings.  This can be maddening (why do you think we have so many conflicts regarding jurisdiction within the law enforcement community?), but it works.  As proof, note that we haven’t fought a pitched civil war since 1865.

      Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 04/17 at 11:20 AM • #


    1. By the way, in keeping with the “deputy sheriff” meme, that should have been “Prime Minister Saruman.”

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/17 at 12:08 PM • #


    1. G’day richard,

      Actually to really be in keeping it should have been “Seneschal Saruman”.

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 12:11 PM • #


    1. Russell — Not until Howard gets the castle finished.

      TimD — It sort of works against your position when your best argument is, “you could never trust us with that kind of power.” It suggests you might aim your reforming efforts a bit closer to home…

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/17 at 12:35 PM • #


    1. I’ve been wondering that myself, what is Howard trying to do? Exactly, point by point. I should probably know but all this damn raiding in World of Warcraft has kept me too busy.

      Side note, saying “little Johnny” will only lose elections 😛

      Posted by Aging Gamer on 04/17 at 12:46 PM • #


    1. Well, I can certainly tell this is not a Tim Blair posting.  Twenty two paragraphs?  Tim D, can’t you simply draw attention to something stupid that Margo said and we can all have a laugh together?

      Well, here’s my short take on your question.  You’re right.  In the US conservatives are inherently distrustful of decision making that takes place at a distance greater from the people affected.  It is for that reason that a desire is placed on decisions being made by as localized a form of government as possible.  The presumption is that decisions are better made by the states than by the Federal governmemt, by counties than by states, by cities, towns, and townships than by counties, and by local districts (school, water, hospital, etc.) than by municipalities.

      Part of this belief is that the more localized form of government is better suited to know the full nature and extent of the issue.  And equally important, it is more accountable for its behavior and decisions made.  As an example, most decisions regarding public schools are left to the local school board.

      We also believe that the best way for a society to exist is for narrow rules being set up that acts as guidelines or boundaries for acceptable behavior.  And then we let the people act according to their best interests, acting under the constraits of those boundaries.  We also believe that the more localized form of government is the better party for determining what those guidelines and boundaries are.

      But we still recognize that some rules must be imposed by the Federal government.  And certain actions and decisions can only be made by or are best made by the Federal government.  National defense and foreign policy are two examples.

      How does one decide which areas are best decided at the Federal level?  I suppose by what PM Howard is doing.  Raising the issue, making the case, and allowing it to be debated and then decided upon.

      Posted by wronwright on 04/17 at 01:02 PM • #


    1. TimD,
      The left seems to have quite enough difficulty accepting the results of Federal elections. After that, who would ask them to make any judgements about a subject so intricate as the sensible limits of Federalism, and States’ Rights.
      I am still waiting for a condemnation of the Victorian case (Christians convicted for vilification) before I defend any state, particularly one with such a lefty wanker government as that one.

      Posted by blogstrop on 04/17 at 04:38 PM • #


    1. And in a correction to my first post, the line should have been “requires people to not act …”

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/17 at 04:50 PM • #


    1. OH GOD NO!!

      Posted by murph on 04/17 at 04:54 PM • #


    1. Russell

      The Corporations Law is dead. Long live the Corporations Act. A new Federal statute has arisen from the ashes of the Federal (not High) Court decision that the old law was’nt Constitutional.  It is a national scheme, like the national scheme of the Evidence Act.  Defamation will also, if the States pull their heads in, become national.  So there is no problem with IR going the same way.

      Posted by Toryhere2 on 04/17 at 05:13 PM • #


    1. You nongs need to knuckle under to the fact that QEII is your head of state. I like the cut of your man Howard’s jib, but really. All this persiflage over nothing. I think we should resurrect the idea of a Viceroy. Perhaps Prince Andrew or that nice Mr Norman StJ Stevas fellow.

      Posted by David Gillies on 04/17 at 06:08 PM • #


    1. Hi Tim D!  Jeez-arse, you are a long-winded bugger, aren’t you?  I reckon you could have made all your points and covered the same ground more efectively in a post one quarter the length!

      Personally, I’m of the view that government power should be dispersed and that federalism is a good way of achieving that goal.  The risks of over-government are best addressed in limiting the powers of all governments, not by concentrating power to the center.  We could begin, for instance, by rethinking the tax code and, oh I don’t know, getting governments out of our bedrooms and off our bodies.

      I couldn’t agree more!  I wonder if it surprises you that so many of Tim B’s readers agree so readily?  There is a problem with nanny-state governments trying too hard to run our lives, but centralising power into an even more remote federal government is not a solution in itself.

      Having said that, it is absolutely clear that Howard wants to centralise industrial relations power simply to de-regulate the system way beyond what the States will tolerate.  And, contrary to your argument about Labor taking hold again in the future, once IR is seriously deregulated it will remain deregulated pretty much forever – there is no going back.

      Maybe I don’t qualify as an “honest conservative” in your eyes, but I don’t really analyse Howard’s action in terms of a “power grab” or “hubris”.  More like an act of impatience and frustration from a man who knows his remaing time is limited and want’s to achieve a lot with the power his government will be given after 1 July with their new numbers in the Senate.  It could still be a bad mistake but, as for dismantling the incredibly bureacratic, ponderous and quirky State IR systems – go for it, I say!


      Posted by TFK on 04/17 at 06:16 PM • #


    1. G’day Toryhere2,

      There may have been a series of decisions at a variety of levels, but the decision that I am talking about was very widely reported as a High Court decision –Law council discussion of the decision.  Questions of constitutionality are dealt with by the High Court – its their job.

      The states and the commonwealth were in agreement over the scheme for the Corporations Law – a series of people being prosecuted challenged the constitutionality of the law that had been cobbled together and won.  We, sort of, have the Corporations Act now, but in the end it may be subject to the same sort of High Court challenge and fail at a suitably tough hurdle.

      The fact that the states and the commonwealth act in concert doesn’t change the wording of the constitution.  The attitude of the High Court to the wording of the constitution varies but what the commonwealth and the states think about doesn’t seem to mean much.

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 06:24 PM • #


    1. Our state governments suck, no question.  Our current federal government sucks somewhat less, but that’s not always been the case.  So I’m dubious about shifting powers to the federal level.

      Now, if capital-T-Tim had actually written a post with some insight or serious content here, I might be inclined to agree with him.  Instead, we get the same old mix of projection, insults and spite.  Grow up, capital-T-Tim.

      Posted by Pixy Misa on 04/17 at 06:24 PM • #


    1. G’day David Gillies,

      We have seven jurisdictions – QEII is HOS of each of them independently (ie she is Queen of Australia and then separately Queen of each of the States – explicitly in some cases, a la Queensland, implicitly in others, Tasmania).  We don’t need a Viceroy we have the Governors and Governor-General – you don’t follow this very closely do you?

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 06:29 PM • #


    1. Personally, I think Tim D. raise a good issue.  I don’t agree with him of course.  But I don’t think we should castigate him.

      Never throw mud at the Tim or tim.

      Posted by wronwright on 04/17 at 06:36 PM • #


    1. But I don’t think we should castigate him.

      castigate ?

      Posted by guinsPen on 04/17 at 07:01 PM • #


    1. TFK says:

      And, contrary to your argument about Labor taking hold again in the future, once IR is seriously deregulated it will remain deregulated pretty much forever – there is no going back.

      Actually, I don’t agree with that. Just look at Western Australia: One of the very first things the Gallop government did on winning power was to severely wind back the IR reforms that had been introduced by the previous Court government, and by that stage very well accepted. At the time, this ‘windback’ caused all sorts of problems to the likes of, IIRC, Rio Tinto to name just one. Only the prolonged mineral boom has allowed WA’s economy to perform as well as it has been; no thanks to the Labor governments’ management.

      Almost the same can be said about Queensland, where Peter Beatie happily takes credit for the State’s booming economy, despite his government’s undoing of many of the IR reforms introduced by the short-lived Nat/Lib Borbidge outfit and despite the fact much of the State’s economy’s strength is due to those despised federal Libs’ policies.

      Other than that, I do agree with Tim’s observation that the best way to reduce government is to actually reduce government; not by simply growing one monster at the expense of another.

      As a resident of the Northern Territorry, where 200,000 people are governed by 25 overpaid Territory MPs, each ruling over about as many people as the average eastern seaboard city coucillor, but each earning about the same as a federal MP, I would most certainly support a serious reduction in the size of State/Territory governments. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to concentrate all the power in Canberra. We all know how removed from reality these guys tend to be, eh?—I mean, where’s Darwin, anyway? 🙂



      Posted by JPB on 04/17 at 07:18 PM • #


    1. David — These rude colonials seem to be getting somewhat full of themselves, don’t they?  Perhaps Tony should cut along to the Palace and recommend sending a frigate and a few sepoys off the Calcutta establishment…

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/17 at 07:28 PM • #


    1. What a surprise a conservative in office that thinks that he can run things better than “those guys”.  It would seem that the way to local power is to win local elections.

      Posted by Pat Patterson on 04/17 at 07:36 PM • #


    1. The long struggle to establish Australia as a federated nation – rather than a gaggle of small and lonely colonial outposts – began well over fifty years prior to the birth of the Commonwealth on January 1st 1901

      First recorded suggestion of the need to establish a ‘federal authority’ to govern Australia.

      Victoria separates from NSW to form its own colonial government.

      Queensland separates from NSW to form its own colonial government.

      The ANA and, later, the Australasian Federation League were founded to promote the vision of one united Australia.

      The Federal Council of Australasia is formed. This Council of colonial governments, and also including New Zealand and Pacific membership, was shunned by NSW and South Australia.

      9 October – Report suggests that colonies should federate for defence reasons.
      24 October – Tenterfield Oration – Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of NSW proclaims that the time for federation has arrived.
      Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne – delegates decide to call a Constitutional Convention to discuss and draft a constitution for a federal system of government.

      National Australasian Convention, Sydney – parliamentary delegates agree to adopt the name “Commonwealth of Australia” and a draft constitution is written aboard the steamboat, Lucinda, on the Hawkesbury River. Popular support for Federation leads to the formation of the Australasian Federation Leagues, and it is the people who continue the push for Federation.

      Corowa Conference – the first of the “peoples’ conventions” – convened by the Australasian Federation League – endorses Dr John Quick’s plan for practical measures to break the legislative impasse by electing a new convention.

      “Hobart Understanding of the Premiers” – Most Premiers approve a draft Enabling Bill based on Quick’s plan.

      Enabling Acts are passed in SA, NSW, Tas. and Vic. These prepare the way for the popular election of delegates to a national convention to draft a constitution.

      Elections are held in the colonies to select delegates to the national Australasian (Constitutional) Convention. Delegates meet in 1897 in Adelaide and then in Sydney before they agree on a federal constitution to be put to the people of the colonies in referenda.

      Delegates to the Australasian (Constitutional) Convention meet for the third session in Melbourne. Delegates agree to revise and amend the draft constitution. They adopt the amended draft Constitution Bill on 16 March in the form of a Bill that will be lodged for enactment by the British Parliament, if supported by the people in referenda. Referenda are held. Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria return ‘Yes’ votes in favour of adopting the new federal constitution. NSW fails to attract the minimum number of ‘Yes’ votes and the Bill is not carried.

      January – Premiers’ Conference, Melbourne – Premiers agree to amend the Federal Constitution Bill to meet the concerns of QLD and NSW. All colonies (except WA) support the Bill and agree to sponsor its enactment in the British Parliament.
      April/September – ‘Yes’ votes carried in referenda in NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and QLD.

      March /July – Australian delegates in London negotiate the passage of the Federal Constitution Bill through the British Parliament and then witness Queen Victoria signing the documents and granting Royal Assent. The proclamation is made that the Commonwealth of Australia will come into being on 1 January 1901

      January – Lord Hopetoun, the first Governor-General, proclaims the Commonwealth of Australia at a ceremony in Centennial Park, Sydney. The interim Federal Ministry is sworn in, with Sir Edmund Barton as Prime Minister. The ceremony takes place before a crowd of 250,000 people. Customs duties payable on products moving between States are eliminated, boosting Australian manufacturing.
      May 9 – Australia’s first Federal Parliament is opened in its temporary home in Melbourne by the Duke of York.

      So 50 years to create a nation from scratch …

      Federation has failed – a hundred years since the first national parliament and the states still bicker and obstruct for their own petty reasons and we still have 7 different education systems, police forces, rail systems, power authorities, health systems, criminal law etc etc etc etc etc etc etc ….

      AND every time I move state I have to get a new fucking drivers licence and re-register my fucking car …

      And as for Tim’s reference to “little Johnny�?  – sounds like hubris to me … either that or he’s just a rude cunt!

      Posted by OldDigger on 04/17 at 07:42 PM • #


    1. Why does a country of 20 million require three levels of government (which are more inept, corrupt and arbitrary the closer they get to people)? State governments are a bloody embarrasment, filled with hacks and yokels who you wouldn’t normally allow to control the till at a school tuckshop let alone a multi-million dollar budget. Not only should states be abolished, the constitution whould be reqritten to severely cap the powers of the federal and local governments, giving actual property rights to landowners and restricting the ability of government to acquire revenue without approval of those who are to be hoovered. Then we might just be justified in applying the term “democracy” to our system of government.

      Posted by Habib on 04/17 at 07:50 PM • #


    1. Why does a country of 20 million require three levels of government (which are more inept, corrupt and arbitrary the closer they get to people)?

      I have to agree Habib. State politicians (from both parties) are completely incompetent. The less power in their hands, the better.

      Posted by ArtVandelay on 04/17 at 07:54 PM • #


    1. Habib and ArtVandelay,

      OK – you start the process of amending the constitution to remake it all in your image.  Judging form on past attempts to get amendments up (what is it now, 6 successes from 49 attempts) I don’t like your chances.

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 07:59 PM • #


    1. (Off topic)

      G’day Russell

      My excuse (posting at 0200 local) is that I give a lot of time to my nearly-4 year old son, Andrew. He knows how to use a computer. So I can only get work done after he goes to bed. I rarely get sleep before 3am.

      Good to hear from you again. I’ve spent far too much of my life in cell-like hotel rooms in Europe. Especially when much of the place closes on Sundays. Been there, done that, and with no Internet connection too.

      Please keep in touch – my e-mail addy’s on my blog.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 08:19 PM • #


    1. The Real Jeff :

      As proof, note that we haven’t fought a pitched civil war since 1865.

      That rather reminds me of something from Monty Python. To wit :

      As a naval officer I abhor the implication that the Royal Navy is a haven for cannibalism. It is well known that we now have the problem relatively under control, and that it is the RAF who now suffer the largest casualties in this area.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 08:27 PM • #


    1. guinsPen:

      Castigate? I wouldn’t go that far. Actually, he should be circumscribed.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 08:29 PM • #


    1. Tim D,

      Gotta agree with you there. Two other international conservative heroes were also guilty of the same double standard:

      President Reagan’s Administration used the threat of withholding Federal highway monies to impose a national Age 21 drinking age. It had been 18, 19, and 21 according to the various states and the “underaged” would often travel to drink then wreck coming home.

      Prime Minister Thatcher disbanded Local Councils such as the Greater London Council because they were so infested with Leftists.

      In both cases, saving lives and forcing Reds to get real jobs, the cause was worthy but the means were not.

      ‘Tis a paradox.

      Posted by JDB on 04/17 at 08:36 PM • #


    1. Certainly referenda are hard to get through a conservative electorate, but a well run campaign spelling out the savings involved and making it clear that government would have less rather than more power could be successful. It’s only vocal minorities who want more power given to government (especially if they have clout with the party in power). What’s so heinous about empowering individuals, and emasculting unrepresentative dingbats (greens for example)?

      Posted by Habib on 04/17 at 08:47 PM • #


    1. OldDigger :

      Excellent summary there. In the Universe Next Door, New Zealand is part of Australia (or Australiasia), and WA isn’t. It could have gone either way in both cases.

      Australia is still composed of a number of independant and jealous city-states, each with their own hinterland.

      USAians must remember that to us, Texas, which has a population the size of Australia’s, would be considered “high density urban area” – all of it. Western Australia has local shires (plural) bigger than the whole of Alaska.

      A 3-tier governmental structure is really needed because of the distances involved. I live in Canberra (Boo! Hiss! from Queensland), and there’s no way anyone here can understand the environment in, say, Launceston or Alice Springs. Let alone Oodnadatta or Menindee. Darwin and Perth are questionable. Even Sydney and Melbourne are dubious.

      Our biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, have multi-million sized populations, and all our capitals have bigger populations than the rest of the state put together (I include Brisbane-Gold Coast as one conurbation, similarly Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong). They have a good case for having more government layers, not less.

      The Australian Capital Territory (ACT – Canberra, like Washington DC is in the District of Columbia) has a population of 300,000, is Australia’s largest inland city by far, and is rather larger than Luxembourg.

      Until recently it was directly governed by the Feds, again similar to DC. As was the Northern Territory, population 100,000, and the size of the old US Confederacy. It’s still not a State as such.

      This comment is not so much about conclusions, and what we should do, as to give some background to the situation. The 3-tier system is wasteful and inneficient, and often does not serve the best interests of those governed. But I don’t think there’s a better system available under the circumstances. I’m of the view that we should make it work better, not chuck it out.

      How to do this? Bugadifino.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 08:57 PM • #


    1. if brevity is the soul of wit then ‘little timmy dunlop’s’ post shows him to be a witless soul.

      Posted by Deo Vindice on 04/17 at 09:22 PM • #


    1. In Tim D’s defence, he was no more wordy than the original article (and Howard’s speech). It was remarkably content-free.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/17 at 09:35 PM • #


    1. Tim,

      I also believe in federalism and states rights. That doesn’t mean I would appose a redefinition of commonwealth/state power. I think what Howard has in mind is the use of section 51 (xxxviii.), which enables the commonwealth to assume responsibilities in certain areas with the concurrence of the states. This doesn’t amount to altering the content of the constitution, so your republic analogy is false. Nor does it amount to a “grab for power”.

      The most significant shift in commonwealth / state relations occurred when federal governments starting using the tied-grants provision in s.96 (in conjunction with the tax power), as a means of implementing federal government policy in areas that were traditionally the responsibility of the states. The Whitlam government was the first to utilise this power to its full potential. Fraser promised to roll back this trend – but didn’t. The result is a ramshackle form of federalism where the responsibilities between governments is not clear.

      BTW, How exactly is the government in our bedrooms and on our bodies

      Posted by Adam B on 04/17 at 10:00 PM • #


    1. can you people not see a wedge developing before your eyes?  all those dinosaur Gough-style regionalistas vs the Braxtopian elite – happy happy joy joy

      Posted by KK on 04/17 at 11:01 PM • #


    1. Alan, re #32—LOL!  Good example!

      Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 04/17 at 11:12 PM • #


    1. We have the same number of politicians in Australia as does the UK, with a population of, what, 65 million? No – we’re not overgoverned.

      Posted by walterplinge on 04/17 at 11:26 PM • #


    1. Habib,

      I am not commenting on the worth of your proposal, just on its chance for success.  The entire electorate is conservative when it comes to the constitution.  The chance of getting anything radical through the constitutional process is effectively zero.

      We couldn’t even agree to cull the “dead bits” from the constitution (Victorian civil service and New Zealand membership).

      Posted by Russell on 04/17 at 11:49 PM • #


    1. New Tim’s a wordy cuss, aint’t he?

      Posted by nofixedabode on 04/18 at 12:44 AM • #


    1. Certainly unlikely, unless it’s sold on the massive savings (and tax cuts) involved. State govts would fight tooth and nail (and dirty), and no doubt would come up with a nice lurid scare campaign, with Jackboots Johnny stomping all over remote areas, pissing in the water tanks, throttling adorable bunnies, ravishing daughters etc. Federation was the best chance to croak the states, but they were too insular and stupid to seize the chance. How about this for an alternative- have the Feds investigate all state governments for malfeasance and corruption, and when they’re all banged up we can quietly dissolve the filthy buggers.

      Posted by Habib on 04/18 at 01:16 AM • #


    1. I think JH may be laying the foundations for a new direction, not the pop-quiz republican debate that failed absolutely (Rachel Ward was inconsolable at the result) but a new popular shift.

      I dont buy all this fear thing that Timdee and friends go on with, are they pining for the good ‘ol days?

      Theme parks for the sentimental?

      Why do we need so many public servants to under perform?

      Posted by rog2 on 04/18 at 03:29 AM • #


    1. I’m not sure Howard has much choice as he understands that the secret to ongoing electoral success is economic success and the secret to ongoing economic success is economic reform.
      IR reform is one of the big outstanding economic reforms that has until now been blocked by union dictat in the federal senate and in state parliaments.
      With the senate out of the road its time to take on the states to implement a modern democratic IR system that will reduce employers compliance costs nation wide.
      its just the hard yards necessary to keep the nation moving forward A typical Howard pragmatist approach with a capital P.

      Posted by Astonished on 04/18 at 03:35 AM • #


    1. TimD’s inaugural spray is a big disappointment. He reveals himself to be merely a polemicist, and a nasty one at that. The post is full of sneering language, worthy of some of our left wing newspapers or even the ABC Current Affairs crew. If this is what we get for TinB allowing him to post, I can do nothing but despair. Here are some of the many choice extracts from his post:

      bid to centralize power. – as another commenter pointed out, Howard’s thrust is not necessarily in this direction, but rather “leaning against an over-governed Australia�?.

      watching most of the right fall in line behind him. – a premature assertion, but if it happens it will happen because they agree, not because they are Rovian Automatons.

      a bunch of inbred Poms at the top of our Constitutional tree – yes, why not have a cheap shot at the Royal Family too? TimD, this only cheapens you.

      the prime minister has now decided that that whole Federalism thing can go.  You know, the basic governmental structure of the nation. – sweeping generalization, polemics without basis – at least not revealed by this post.

      clever dicks on the right will label you a Howard hater – oh yes! Watch out for them. Actually, I think you reveal yourself as having some extreme attitude problems.

      As they always do in the absence of, you know, an actual argument. – absence of an actual argument dose not impede those of left or right, on many occasions. I thought you, TimD, were supposed to be above this sort of slanging. We were expecting a treat, or at least a treatise. Instead we get insults (I’m channelling the Indonesians here).

      Even his line about Australia being over-governed is pure wind – more insults, what about some of those arguments you were alluding to?

      he has always been a control freak – ditto. Note to TimD – John Howard is a successful politician. Control is what they do.

      the most one-person-centric government in Australian history. – This gets a bit repetitive, TimD.

      ..hardly surprising that he is looking to other sources to sate him.- Sate Him! The language in this man of reason’s piece is getting silly. Remember, it’s supposed to an “argument�?.

      Mr Howard’s real problem, then, is not hypocrisy but hubris. – Hubris seems to be something TimD has sated himself with, probably many times, and I am not going to continue to read tawdry extemporizations like this.
      .. usurp some of the powers of the States Usurp is very colourful. Should be reserved for those who steal government, not those who win free and fair elections. TimD may be showing that he too is deeply shocked by that win.

      ..the end-of-Federalism push but in the mounting string of broken promises that he casually deploys. – Again that assertion that this is “little�? Johnny aka Samson, about to bring down the Temple of Federalism. Give us a break, TimD.

      he is creating a fiefdom in Canberra – yeah, yeah, that’s what Sauron/Satan would do, if he couldn’t find somewhere more pleasant to live, like Sydney. Wake up – Canberra is a Federal Capital, and nobody is creating a fiefdom that does not already exist. He may be trying to modify it. Even Labor has tried on a few referenda from time to time.

      getting governments out of our bedrooms and off our bodies. – Wow, sounds like closet queer or Bob Brownout stuff. The government isn’t really that interested, I have to tell you.

      I would agree that there is a case for rethinking the division of powers. – now you tell me? You want to change something? After all that you have spouted so far? After this effort I don’t really want to hear about that, however.

      his rather short-sighted, power-grabbing core supporters – is that an argument yet TimD? Looks like just another attitude.

      we mean-hearted lefties will have the added satisfaction of being able to say that they couldn’t have done it without the help of the overweening hubris of little Johnny. – Great! Just winding down with a bit of revelation of the partisan nature, with a dash of extra insult to the man who is quite normal in height but is constantly picked on in this small minded, schoolyard language. TimD is a fraud.

      Sounds sweet to me – I bet!

      Are there any honest conservatives out there who will call this power-grab for what it is and condemn the prime minister for his hubris? – Why should an honest conservative even bother to read your posts after this?

      Posted by blogstrop on 04/18 at 06:47 AM • #


    1. blogstrop:

      All well and good, but frankly, TimD’s language hadn’t got past my filters. It’s irrelevant. I genuinely didn’t notice, and nor do I particularly care.

      He’s a lefty.

      That’s how they talk.

      Fish gotta swim, Moonbats gotta fly. Not that he’s a Moonbat, there’s some good points in there if you just ignore the doctrinaire language. Not hard, there’s so much like it around MSM and the blogosphere.

      I’m sure that there are many who treat TimB’s remarks the same way. They filter out the RWDB spin on the language. I hope there are people who treat *my* remarks the same way, as I’m far more interested in communicating my points to people of opposite viewpoints than to people of like mind. For one thing, they’re more likely to reveal to me when I’ve got things wrong.

      I’m a monster of arrogance, my ego’s so big it enters the room a full three minutes before I do, but I’m not arrogant enough to claim infallibility.

      Posted by aebrain on 04/18 at 11:02 AM • #


  1. This is a pretty amazing development, and I’d be interested to hear what American conservatives think of this bid to centralize power.

    American, check. Conservative, kind of. Here goes:

    I think that how Australia is run is properly the business of the Australians. If they’re fine with more centralization, bully for them. If they want to delegate matters to local bodies, that’s fine, too. My opinions on the matter are not particularly relevant.

    The important thing is that a government be responsive to the desires of the electorate- not how well a foreign government conforms to *my* ideas of how a nation should be run.

    Posted by rosignol on 04/18 at 03:04 PM • #