Beyond Federation (BF) (of which I'm a member) advocates the abolition of state government in Australia.
As well as developing models for change and a detailed appreciation of the issues, we acknowledge points in the federalist argument - including its benefits - and engage with them constructively.
One major federalist is Professor Greg Craven from Curtin University. His article (in Policy, Winter 2005) while witty, makes a serious misrepresentation of the arguments for state abolition. Craven takes a one-eyed view of the benefits of federalism, refuses to acknowledge there could be any problems with federalism and claims our imperfect federation captures the benefits of an ideal federation.
Craven also refuses to engage with BF's positions about waste and the arbitrariness of state boundaries, or acknowledge possibilities for larger constitutional change. He attaches problems and agendas to BF's position that just don't exist, including claims that we:
- are cheering Howard;
- hail from Whitlam;
- claim a monopoly on wisdom;
- only have advocates in New South Wales and Victoria;
- ignore the need for independent regional initiative;
- refuse to acknowledge population differences within Australia; and
- are "centralists".
But as I'll demonstrate, Craven looks at the world with one eye shut.
Craven sees strange motives in those who might dare oppose him: we're deluded, arrogant, irrational, elitist and so forth. In fact, BF tries to acknowledge the opposition - seeking better ways of realising the same positives. Moreover, we'd never question the motives of our opponents.
Craven tries to associate state abolition with Howard's recent frustration with the states. But BF's discussion long predates Howard's public frustrations and we certainly don't want to give the Howard Government (or any government, for that matter) carte blanche to do whatever it likes. We acknowledge the importance of checks and balances - but not if you're shooting yourself in the foot.
He claims state abolition is only pushed by residents of NSW and Victoria. But we have proponents in Queensland - including the Constitutional lawyer A.J. Brown at Griffith University; several Tasmanian councillors planned to attend our Gippsland congress and there's been support in Tasmanian newspapers - including a Hobart Mercury editorial; and other advocates include Dean Jaench in South Australia and Dr Chrissy Sharpe, the former Greens MLC in Western Australia.
In 1997, "The Big Conversation" was held throughout Australia. Virtually all forums wanted a stronger role for local government and approximately half the forums explicitly explored removing the states. This was a majority of those in SA, WA, TAS, NT and NSW.
In 2001, A.J. Brown surveyed Queenslanders and found about 60 per cent of the respondents expected and looked forward to basic changes. About 40 per cent were interested in more than minor change, including state abolition.
Contrary to claims by Craven that we are politically narrow, perhaps inspired by Whitlam, BF has support from across the political spectrum. We've had Liberal Party members address our congresses over problems like the Murray-Darling River. And we have Vietnam Veterans among our number who feel strongly about their contribution to the anti-Communist cause.
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