The States of Confusion

If Covid 19 has done one thing in Australia it’s to shine the light on the dysfunctional state of the federation. From the very start, state premiers grabbed the opportunityto push themselves into the limelight and show that they were in charge, not the federal Prime Minister. The debacle which ensued will remain in the Australian political consciousness forever.

We heard from a dizzying array of Chief Medical Officers from every hidden nook of government, all in baffling disagreement with each other about what form the lockdown should take. Layered on top of that, a federal Prime Minister who recommended one course of action and six state premiers, plus two territory leaders who all had their own views. The result –utter confusion. Hardly a person in the whole country could keep up with the complex rules on what they were allowed to do and what they weren’t. 

But, as this ridiculous saga continues, people are becoming ever more sceptical about the need for state governments. So far, people that have voted on the My Direct Democracy App have voted 100% in favour of getting rid of the state parliaments altogether and becoming a single nation with one legal system. So, has the hubris of Daniel Andrews and his fellow premiers actually backfired and inadvertently sowed the seed of constitutional revolution?

From a practical point of view, the amount of duplication involved in having both federal and state governments is mind blowing. Each state has its own law, police force and court system. It controls its own education and healthcare. Plus, theday-to-day bureaucracy it creates for everybody is bewildering. Consider that an Australian citizen who moves 500 metres from Albury to Wodonga must get a new driving licence, have a roadworthy test and re-register his/her car, subject his/her children to a different education system and understand a whole new set of laws … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But why is it so? Surely nobody would concoct such a ridiculously over-governed and confusing system for a population numbering just 25 million? Well, not today anyway. It would seem that the only possible answer is that in 1901, when travelling from Sydney to Melbourne would take two weeks, a few heavily vested interests thought that a federation of states was the best way to organise the new Commonwealth of Australia. Of course that bears no relation to life in Australia in the modern era, where people primarily identify as Australian and not Victorian or South Australian,and they expect the same rights everywhere in the country. So why do we put up with it?

That could in-part be answered by Australian’s general lack of interest in state level politics. Mostof us view the state politicians as glorified local councillors, always pontificating, but lacking any real power, and indeed capacity, to do anything. Again, the Covid-19 crisis has been an eye opener in that regard – not only do the states have significantly more power over peoples lives than they could ever have imagined, but also that they are willing to exert it in the most ruthless and inconsistent fashion imaginable, They also answered the capacity question, confirming almost unanimously that no, they do not have the capacity to use the power they have wisely.

In another instance, who would have thought that the Victorian Premier had the authority to ignore the advice of the federal government and ASIO and sign a deal with a foreign nation (China) which allows it unprecedented access to Victorian assets, but compromises Australian national security to such an extent that its membership of the 5i’s intelligence sharing arrangement is under threat. Again, a stark example of power without capacity.

Alas, it’s not just in Victoria that the underlying totalitarian tendencies have emerged from state premiers, when given the slightest taste of authority. In Queensland the Premier has shut off the state completely to “outsiders”, by which she means fellow Australians.  Not only is it surprising that she has the authority to stop Australians travelling within their own country,it’s startling that she has the will when her own state is critically dependent upon tourist revenue.

It’s perhaps a testimony to the vast chasm between what politicians think ordinary people are thinking and what ordinary people are really thinking, that the Prime Minister announced this week that “COAG is no longer” and that it will be replaced by the ill-conceived National Cabinet, made up of the Prime Minister and the state and territoryleaders. Even though this is just name changing tokenism to appease the power-hungry state premiers, it flies in the face of the general public feeling, which seems to be leaning more to the dissolution of the state parliaments altogether and making Australia a single nation with a single legal system.

When people were asked the following question on the My Direct Democracy app: 

So far, people have been 100% in favour of the dissolution of state parliaments.

Similarly, they were asked the following question:

“In a national crisis, like Covid-19, should the state governments be legally bound to follow directives from the Federal Prime Minister?”

The result was the same – 100% in favour.

The next few years are likely to bring turbulent economic conditions, the likes of which most people will never have experienced. It’s in such times that new political movements are born. Will it be that the actions of the state governments in bringing on the economic catastrophe result in their ultimate destruction? Only time will tell but one thing is for sure, people will pay a lot more attention at state elections in future.

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