Friday, June 18, 2010

New State arguments 9 - benefits of self-government

This post introduces the benefits that New England might gain from statehood.

By way of background, after our defeat at the 1967 plebiscite, I kind of gave up. I was involved in other things, and the new state cause seemed dead, remote.

In 1981 an odd thing happened. I had begun writing a biography of my grandfather, David Drummond, as a PhD thesis in history. In 1981 I came back to Armidale to research and write full time. As I explored Drummond's views, I found my belief in the new state cause re-ignited.

When I came back to Armidale, I had had fourteen years experience in the Commonwealth Public Service and had become an SES (Senior Executive Service) officer. I now fed the new state arguments through my practical public service experience. Suddenly, things that had seemed political arguments made sense in a way that I had not seen before.

In the period since, I have worked as a Commonwealth SES officer concerned to bring about change, as a consultant, as the CEO of a specialist medical college and as a person providing demographic and policy advice to NSW Government agencies. Those experiences ended by reinforcing my views.

At a very personal level, I found myself wishing that I could have used my skills and experiences in a formal way to support New England social and economic development. I also found that each experience now reinforced my view that the existing system created fundamental structural impediments to the achievement of New England growth. I tried to bring about changes within the bounds set by current structures, but kept failing.

In June 2007, I began a series on this blog called Why I Remain an New England New Stater. This set out a few of the lessons I had learned.

I will extend this argument in later posts. At this stage, I want to make one simple point.

I care about New England. Indeed, some would say that I am obsessed! However, there is absolutely no way within current structures that I can do anything major about this. Without our own state, I have to keep piddling around the margins.

I have achieved some things; a house here, a change in housing policy there; recognition that Aboriginal demographic structures are different in regional NSW; I have helped re-create an interest in the history of the broader New England. Yet none of this matters a damn because the institutional structures continue to work against us.

So long as those like me who care about New England have no-where to go, so long as we have to try to work around existing structures, then New England will continue to go down.

I accept that I am one-eyed. Simply, I care.                


Greg said...

Jim, I can sense your frustration at the lack of regional progress under the current political structure. I share this too.

In my youth I was aware of the New England plebiscite and thought that it would be a good thing without really having the faintest idea why. More recently, I have become acutely aware of the ongoing cost, not just to the region but also to Australia as a whole, of our over sized centralized states. Yet on the credit side I can barely think of a single benefit.

More and more people are questioning the relevance of our existing political boundaries and the decreasing relevance of the states which have been reduced to little more than agencies for Commonwealth spending by an increasingly dominant and domineering Commonwealth. As a direct result the states have become increasingly self absorbed with the capital cities at the expense of the regions. Regional development is no longer important to a state who's dominant source of revenue is Canberra and who's main measure of success is how the capital lines up against competing capitals in other states.

Unfortunately, the disillusionment with our federal/state relations has not resulted in any well focused debate about reform. Opinions are divided between no states (to all intents and purposes an impossibility) and new states (realistic and achievable but struggling to gain traction against claims that Australia already has too much government).

Personally, I am strongly in favour of statehood for New England (as well as other deserving regions) and I believe that this as an absolute necessity to encourage decentralization, regional prosperity and growth.

I would also like to see the Commonwealth raising no more in tax than it needs for administration of Commonwealth programs. The states should be responsible for raising their own revenues rather than being financially dependent on the Commonwealth. That is how a well functioning federation should work.

Greg said...

Some interesting comparisons with other federations.

Australia - 8 states and territories

USA - 50 states in a similar land area to Australia.

South Africa - 10 states in an area only slightly larger than South Australia.

Switzerland - 23 cantons in an area less than that of Tasmania.

Austria - 9 states in an area less than half the size of Victoria.

Germany - 16 states in an area less than half that of NSW.

Even Canada (the most comparable) has 13 provinces and territories in an area about 25% larger than Australia.

I think that you get the idea. Australia is a mighty country but a relatively small federation and as a result we miss many of the great benefits of federalism.

Mark said...

I had another great discussion with work collegues late last night on the virtues of self government. They agreed that if it was spelled out clearly,(relatively) concise and in easy to read simple terms, more people would be simpathetic and also aware of the bigger picture.