Saturday, September 04, 2010

Belshaw's World - time to repeat the new state question

I generally avoid commenting on current events in this column, but this time I am going to break that rule.

Since the election, all sorts of emails have been flying around Northern New South Wales discussing just what the country independents might do. I will talk about these in a moment. But first, I want to make a few general comments about the position that the three country independents finds themselves in.

New England has its own constitutional tradition, one that Mr Windsor most certainly represents.

Part of that tradition is effective representation by the MP for his or her electorate. Country voters expect things from their MPs in a way that city folk do not. They are ours regardless of party, and we expect them to remember that.

Part of the tradition, too, is that once elected, MPs become members of parliament and are expected observe the traditions and values of parliament.

This may have been much tarnished by party politics, but it remains true. Parliament is our first protection against oppression by the executive, whether that oppression is expressed via the divine right of kings or the modern equivalent, the “national interest” as defined by the ruling party.

Let me illustrate by a past example.

In 1961, the Menzies Government had a majority of one. Implementing the Government’s two airline policy, the then Minister for Civil Aviation told East-West Airlines that they must merge with Ansett. When the airline stated this, the Minister denied it.

New England member David Drummond knew that the airline’s story was true. What was he to do? If he denounced the minister, he risked bringing the Government down.

White and shaking, he rose in the house to denounce the minister. As he spoke, the empty house filled. With his known reputation for honesty, no-one doubted his word. The government survived, but the attempt to force the merger was destroyed.

Drummond was acting partly in the interests of his electorate. More, though, he was acting in the interests of parliament, in the right of parliament to have honesty from executive government.

Everything I have seen suggests that Mr Windsor is acting in the same way. He has articulated a set of principles and is attempting to comply with them regardless of immediate partisan positions. The electorate’s belief that he would do this was a key reason for his large majority.

Now everybody wants something from him. If he sides with Labor one set of electors will be upset, another if he sides with the Coalition. Both groups will be upset if he cannot deliver tangible benefits for the electorate.

In a sense, I am no different. I, too, want things from Mr Windsor and his colleagues, although they are a little different from the various wish-lists that have appeared in other places.

Even including the population growth along the coast, the broader New England has been in structural decline for many decades. No one has addressed this.

Taking this into account and chatting among the growing number of new state supporters across New England, we would like Mr Windsor and his colleagues to do three things.

First, we would like him to support the holding of a new constitutional convention to look at the distribution of state and commonwealth powers, as well as ways of facilitating subdivision within the existing Federation. Regardless of individual views, there appears to be general agreement that the current system no longer works.

Secondly, we would like him to support the holding of another new state plebiscite within Northern New South Wales. We new staters want this. However, there is another issue that extends beyond the fight for self-government.

Regardless of individual views on statehood, there can be no doubt that the very existence of the New England New State Movement forced governments to consider broader New England needs in a way that has not happened since the Movement collapsed after 1967. We need this pressure again.

Finally, we would like both Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to apply a key test to any specific initiatives that might be considered:

Will the proposal have any real longer term impact on New England development, or is it just a band-aid? We have seen too many of the second, too few of the first.

In asking this question, we would also like both MPs consider broader New England needs.

There are many shared problems across the North that would benefit from being addressed in an integrated way, instead of the fragmented and itsy approach that has applied.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 1 September 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010


John Caling said...

Interesting to note that the independents and most political commentators are keen to have the independents aligned with one of the two major parties.

I would ask the question - if they were elected as independents why do they have to align with a major party?

Surely the electors within their electorates have stated a wish to have an "independent" represent them. Not someone who is going to align with the party that dangles the largest carrot.

Bob Katter (bless him) has stated he will vote in the chamber according to the needs of his electorate and constituents, even if it means going against the other two. I say good on you Bob!!!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. As I understand it, all three have said that they will consider supporting a Government on supply and confidence motions.

If the three of them were not to do this, ie totally reserve their position, then Julia Gillard as caretaker PM would either have to recommend an election or convene Parliament. There would then be a vote for the speaker. Whoever won this vote, and this would depend on the independent vote, could then be invited to form Government. However, it would be an unstable position.