Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Forum: New England's greatest needs

You are advising the New England independents. What are the three most things that you would like them to argue for?

I ask this question because I have just completed a post on my personal blog, New media, independents and change, looking at the new climate created by Australia's hung parliament. We have a chance to do new things, but we have to give them guidance.

So what are the three things you consider most important?    


Greg said...

I think that we all recognize that our federal system of government is not working well. Some even believe that it is in the emergency ward on life support. We all want change in the way that government in Australia is delivered but we have no clear idea of what it should look like. We are too blinkered by the paradigms of the 20th Century.

Although it is my region that I am primarily concerned with, my wish list is not just relevant to, Newcastle, New England or even NSW, but for the whole of Australia, regional Australia especially.

To a large extent our problems are rooted in the same cause. That cause is a domanant central government which is now, to all intents and purposes, more a unitary rather than a federal government. It has total fiscal hegemony over lower levels of government raising more than 80% of all taxes. Yet it is the states and local councils which are the primary providers of government services, but without the independent means to deliver. They are financially coupled to the chariot wheels of Canberra which has formed an expensive double bureaucracy.

How can Canberra make and implement good policy decisions for Newcastle, Armidale, Port Macquarie or any of the other cities and towns of New England? Of course it cannot because it's policies are, of necessity one size fits all. Australia is too vast and it's communities too diverse and widely spread. Only states, regions and communities can best make those policy decisions at a local or regional level.

So my wish list is not specific to New England, but it is essential for New England to prosper and achieve it's potential. REAL power must be devolved back to lower levels of government (both state and local). The Commonwealth must observe it's proper powers under sec 51 of the constitution instead of forever making incursions into areas which were never intended to be part of it's domain.

In practice this means that the Commonwealth must reduce it's fiscal dominance and thereby it's undue influence over states, regions and communities to allow local people to make policy decisions as appropriate for them and their communities. In other words, it must pass a great deal of it's taxing powers back to lower tiers of government and exit policy making for regional domestic matters.

We need a new constitutional convention where we can debate and decide what our federation should look like, the number of states, their boundaries and the responsibilities and taxing powers of each tier of government. At the moment our federation is moving ever closer to a unitary system and the results are obvious - choking capitals and failing regions. Our way of life is under threat.

The independents find themselves in a unique position in Australian political history. It is within their power to force a constitutional convention where we can renew and reshape our federation to breath new life into it for the challenges of the 21st Century.

This is what I would like to see from the New England independents. It would be the greatest of tragedies if they squandered this opportunity to help shape New England and indeed Australia for the better.

Will history remember them as visionaries with great purpose? Or simply as political grand standers who had 15 minutes of fame? The ball is in their court.

Peter Firminger said...

Wow, how do you follow that?

Mine are simple and focussed.

1. Coal Seam Gas. There needs to be a national policy standardising regulation of this very dangerous practice and a set of rules making agriculture more important than mining

2. Food security. We need to sort our trade policies. The US subsidises their farmers so that we can import dirt cheap produce to the detriment of our own producers. Listen to Bob Katter and Tony Windsor on this.

3. One third is this nation is rural/regional. We need better representation through better education on voting. We need to show people that these three independents are the future of the bush, and to ignore Labour and the Coalition at the polls (and I guess the Greens). If the Nats candidates were really serious, they would have done what these three did and really stand up for what they believe in, rather than bunch up under the Liberal skirt hoping for a cabinet position.

I really hope history has a good story to write about this short fragment of time.

John Caling said...

I agree with Peter and will not attempt to follow or add to Greg's comments. Greg is spot on here and has clearly summarized the problems that have evolved with a centralized Federal Government system using fiscal control in an attempt to dictate to the States/Territories.

This policy has had a detrimental effect on all of regional Australia, not just New England.

It will be interesting to see how the independent MPs perform, particularly Tony Windsor and Bob Katter who have everything to gain and very little to loose by pushing for more decentralised or devolved system of Government.

Mark said...

Represent those who live outside metrocentric centres of Australia by highlighting common bush issues such as:
- the lack of GPs
- poor health infastructure and services
- traditionally poor politcal representation
- decentralisation of government services and a real effort promoting business to move out of capital cities.

Greg said...

Let's not forget that the independent MP's are federal members and that most government services are delivered at state level.

Realistically there is not a lot that they can do for service delivery in the bush. But they are now in a position to influence the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States.

That is why I believe that they should push for a Constitutional convention to re-shape our federation and federal-state relationships, specifically with regional Australia in mind.

A convention could also deliver lasting changes rather than simply a short term gain that will probably disappear after this term.

Jim Belshaw said...

What a great set of comments! As we all agree, Greg's comment was quite masterly. I will pick the comments up in this week's column plus the next Wednesday forum. My thanks, again.