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Devolving power to those closest

By Mark Christensen - posted Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The annual local government National General Assembly is firing up in Canberra next week.

Council delegates will propose motions, which may be carried and put into the political system for a response. Few have an impact; fewer still are big picture. Last year, resolution 49 requested a review of the national guidelines for powered wheelchair access to buildings.

The federal election result, however, just changed the game. Queensland and other parts of the country evidently sense Scott Morrison could be the man to bite the bullet on the most strategic of issues: subsidiarity, the devolution of decision-making to the lowest practicable level.


A product of Western civilisation, Australia has, at different times to different degrees, grappled with the age-old question of the collective versus the individual. When is it in the public interest to exercise centralised authority, such as on national defence, and when isn't it?

It's a balance rather than an either-or. That said, nations like ours have, over recent decades, made a concerted push toward the personal freedom end of the spectrum, mindful of the democratic ideal that government should be of the people, by the people, for the people.

Some, such as The New York Times columnist David Brooks, believe social and economic liberalism has run amok, culminating in a spiritual crisis, wherein disaffected individuals pursue greater self-interest and materialism. It's so bad, we've forgotten what has been lost.

"Hyper-individualism gradually undermines any connection not based on individual choice – the connections to family, neighbourhood, culture, nation, and the common good," he writes for the Aspen Institute. "Our public culture normalizes selfishness, rationalizes egoism, and covers over and renders us inarticulate about the deeper longings of the heart and soul. … Life is a qualitative endeavour, not a quantitative one."

Re-establishing connectedness and belief in the human spirit cannot be made to happen. It's an organic, bottom-up process dependent on trust and on-the-ground moral leadership.

It's not so much that all politics is now local. That was always the case. What's different is the Canberra overreach has exceeded its use-by date, something the Prime Minister, far more than most, appreciates.


To build modern Australia, the relative importance of the three tiers of government was inverted. We placed our faith in a top-down approach that, by its very nature, expects money, concentrated power and rules-based structures to achieve systematic outcomes. Though not made explicit, the quantitative was put before the qualitative, head before heart, ideology before people.

And while this has been worthwhile, a reckoning is now upon the West.

Donald Trump, Brexit and One Nation are not random or temporary phenomena. The protagonists seek to highlight – often in a crude, inarticulate manner – we've sacrificed something and that the hitherto formulaic success isn't satisfying, in terms of what human beings really value.

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This article was first published in Government News.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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