As the federal government debates an Indigenous Voice, state and territories are pressing ahead



The Queensland treaty process is still in the early stages and negotiations will not begin for several years. But it’s still a historic step forward for Indigenous communities.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

Harry Hobbs, University of Technology Sydney; Alison Whittaker, University of Technology Sydney, and Lindon Coombes, University of Technology Sydney

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has announced that the state will begin a conversation about a pathway to treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In doing so, Queensland joined Victoria and the Northern Territory in formally commencing treaty processes.

This is a significant development. While the Commonwealth government embarks on another round of important yet time-consuming consultations over a potential First Nations Voice to Parliament, the states and territories are taking the lead on treaties.

Queensland’s ‘track to treaty’

Queensland’s announcement reflects a shift in debate on Indigenous constitutional recognition at the state and territory level. Only a few year ago, the states and territories debated whether to include a reference to Indigenous Australians in their constitutions. Now, they are contemplating negotiating treaties.

Treaties have been accepted globally as the means of reaching a settlement between Indigenous peoples and those who have colonised their lands. They are formal agreements, reached via respectful negotiation in which both sides accept a series of responsibilities.

Treaties acknowledge Indigenous peoples were prior owners and occupiers of the land and, as such, retain a right to self-government. At a minimum, they recognise or establish structures of culturally appropriate governance and means of decision-making and control.

The Queensland treaty process is still in its early stages and negotiations will not begin for several years. This is sensible, because it is important that both the state and First Nations are ready to start negotiations.

For First Nations, this means having a clear sense of what a treaty might mean for their communities, as well as a broad consensus on their negotiating position. Preparing for treaty negotiations can also enable First Nations to engage in nation-(re)building, consistent with their values and aspirations, which is valuable regardless of the content, or even the completion, of a treaty.

For the state, it is equally important that non-Indigenous Queenslanders understand what a treaty is and what it might result in.




Read more:
Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?


Reflecting these preliminary steps, the government has established a bipartisan eminent panel of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Queenslanders, with Indigenous academic Jackie Huggins and former Attorney-General Michael Lavarch serving as co-chairs.

Their responsibility is to provide leadership and engage with key stakeholders across the state. A treaty working group will also be established soon to lead consultations with First Nations, allowing them to discuss and reach agreement on what a treaty might contain.

Jackie Huggins (left) will take a lead role in the Queensland treaty process.
Alan Porritt/AAP

Others leading the way

These steps follow similar processes in two other states and territories with Labor governments – Victoria and the Northern Territory.

In Victoria, the Andrews government committed to entering treaty negotiations in 2016. An Aboriginal Treaty Working Group was established to lead two rounds of community consultations, which resulted in the creation of a First Peoples’ Assembly. The assembly will not negotiate treaties itself, but will work with the state to develop a treaty framework through which the state and First Nations can negotiate.

At the same time, Victoria also established a Treaty Advancement Commission to maintain momentum for a treaty and keep all Victorians informed.

The process in the Northern Territory is following this pattern. In June 2018, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives of the four Indigenous land councils, committing to exploring a treaty.

Earlier this year, Mick Dodson, the former director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, was appointed NT treaty commissioner. He is currently leading consultations with Aboriginal Territorians.

Why a lack of federal involvement is a problem

These are promising developments, but there are several challenges ahead.

First, treaties are political agreements. As such, they are vulnerable to political fluctuations.

In Queensland, the Liberal National Party opposition wants to look at the government’s announcement in more detail, but has already suggested it would adopt different priorities. If the LNP wins the 2020 state election, it could abandon the process before negotiations even commence.

We have already seen this play out in South Australia. In 2017, the state Labor government formally started treaty negotiations. But within a year, a newly-elected Coalition government stepped away from this commitment.

Second, the federal government’s position is problematic. Ken Wyatt, the new minister for Indigenous Australians, has said the federal government will leave treaty processes to the states and territories.




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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Ken Wyatt on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians


Federal government involvement is not legally necessary. Queensland has the legal authority to sign and implement a treaty with Indigenous peoples.

However, the Commonwealth parliament has the power to overrule any state or territory treaty. For this reason, it is preferable that the Commonwealth play a role in these processes. The Uluru Statement from the Heart offers an avenue to do so.

.

In this light, the federal government’s response to the Uluru Statement adds a further complication. The statement calls for

  • A constitutionally enshrined national representative body to advise the federal parliament (known as a “Voice” to parliament); and

  • A Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

As constitutional lawyer Megan Davis has explained, these reforms are “deliberately sequenced.” The value of starting with a First Nations Voice and Makarrata Commission is that they can oversee developments across the country. Without these bodies, state and territory treaty processes may diverge and result in wildly different settlement terms.

Ken Wyatt faces intense opposition to his proposal for a referendum on constitutional recognition.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Finally, the support of Indigenous peoples is not assured.

Increasingly, First Nations are resisting agreement-making with governments that act inconsistently with their values and aspirations.

For instance, the Djab Wurrung Embassy, a group of traditional owners protesting VicRoads’ plan to cut down sacred trees, has launched a “No Trees, No Treaty” campaign to highlight the state government’s refusal to listen to their views.

Just last month, the Yorta Yorta Elders Council also rejected a Victorian treaty

as a trip wire and only a pathway to assimilation.

Consensus cannot be assumed, and will become more complex as First Nations articulate their objectives and objections to possible treaties.

What’s next?

Notwithstanding these challenges, Queensland’s announcement is historic.

It confirms that progress on Indigenous constitutional recognition is being led by the states and territories. It also directs more attention to the federal government’s approach to this issue.

It is hoped that the Commonwealth reflects on Queensland’s announcement and commits to establishing a Makarrata Commission. And that commission should be designed by Indigenous representatives serving on a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice.The Conversation

Harry Hobbs, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney; Alison Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney, and Lindon Coombes, Industry Professor (Indigenous Policy), University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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State of the states: Palmer’s preference deal and watergate woes



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The Coalition is expected to announce a preference deal with Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party on Monday.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Chris Aulich, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, James Cook University; Michael Lester, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

There is a clear fault line in the Coalition between conservatives and moderates, reflected in the number of centre-right women challenging more conservative members.

Some sitting moderates have chosen not to renominate – Ann Sudmalis in NSW won’t recontest, while Julia Banks in Victoria has resigned from the Coalition to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. Other moderate women are standing as independents (Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall in NSW, and Helen Haines in Victoria) or as candidates for other centre-right parties (Rebekha Sharkie in SA).

What typically unites these women is a rejection of conservative social policies – and perhaps also a rejection of the alleged culture of bullying within the Coalition parties. These candidates are modernists in that they support progressive policy issues. As independents they can also sidestep the Coalition’s internal fracas about quotas and targets for women.

In NSW, independent Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah. Front and centre of her campaign is action on climate change, refugee policy and foreign aid. Her views on marriage equality contrast dramatically with Abbott’s in an electorate that overwhelmingly voted “yes” in the marriage equality postal vote.

Similarly, independent MP Kerryn Phelps, contesting Wentworth, was a significant player in the marriage equality debates and has argued forcibly for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.

Both Steggall and Phelps have complained about “dirty tricks” and the negative campaigns being mounted against them. Billboards linking Steggall to Labor, allegations that she is receiving funds from GetUp! (she is not), the renting of premises next to her office that were then plastered with anti-Steggall advertising, and the sexualising of Steggall posters all appear to be an attempt to intimidate and demean her.

A number of articles critical of Steggall have been published by the Daily Telegraph, with free copies delivered to residents who are not subscribers to the paper. This includes a front page story in which Steggall’s ex-husband and his current wife described her as “opportunistic” and “lacking the temperament of a leader”. The couple have since declared that the Telegraph article does not reflect how they feel about Steggall’s candidature.

Kerryn Phelps says dirty tricks were behind the removal of hundreds of her election posters in her campaign to retain the seat of Wentworth. Labor’s Tim Murray has also complained that his posters had been removed and replaced by Liberal posters. Liberal challenger, Dave Sharma, rejects any allegation that this activity has been sanctioned by him or the Liberal Party. Today it was reported that Sharma’s posters have also been defaced.

The seats of Wentworth and Warringah are critical to the reelection of the Morrison government and it’s clear that some supporters of the conservative wing of the Coalition have “taken off the gloves”. We can only speculate if it’s because the independents are women or because they are moderates.




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Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first hustings in Herbert coincided with reports of a deal that the Coalition will preference Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) over other populist parties.

UAP’s candidate, former NRL player Greg Dowling, will run for the lower house, while Palmer has his sights on the Senate. Palmer’s big cash splash announcement may cause more of a ripple than a bounce, considering former Queensland Nickel workers will have to wait until after the election to get their money back.

With One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party (FACN) also throwing their hats into the ring, there’s now four right-leaning minor parties vying for votes.

Herbert’s 2019 election is shaping up to be a rerun of 2013. Six years ago, preferences played a huge role in deciding 97 of the 150 seats nationally. 40% of Queensland seats were decided on preference votes in 2013.

The latest polling shows UAP at 14% – almost the same as 2013 after preferences (15.52%), but this was before Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) confirmed their candidate. In 2016, One Nation preferences helped push the incumbent, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, over the line. With a preference deal between LNP and UAP, Palmer’s chance of a seat in the Senate is a good bet, but it’s now a four-way spilt for the lower house.

UAP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will be the benefactors in the Herbert electorate, placed ahead of Liberals and Labor on the how-to-vote cards. In a battle between UAP, PHON and FACN, it’s the Greens that could benefit the most.

With UAP aligned with LNP, the Greens candidate Sam Blackadder has a chance of picking up protest votes against Labor. The Greens could also take votes from latecomers, the Animal Justice Party, thanks to its clear policy on climate change – something that has eluded the major parties.

There’s a similar picture in Dickson, with One Nation, Fraser Anning and the Animal Justice Party all putting up candidates. Plus there’s former Palmer United Party, now independent candidate, Thor Prohaska running on a democracy ticket.

Like Herbert, PHON and FACN will have to fight for votes from UAP in Dickson. In 2013, Palmer’s party polled 9.8% of the vote in Dickson. With UAP favouring LNP over ALP like it did in 2013, it could help Dutton to retain his marginal seat this time around.

Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

Attention was on Bill Shorten and Clive Palmer in WA election news this week.

Bill Shorten came under scrutiny when it was revealed that three WA Labor candidates had been forced to include him in their election advertising after they were found distributing pamphlets that made no reference to the Labor leader.

Polls consistently show that Australian voters prefer Scott Morrison to Bill Shorten as prime minister. But Shorten is a bigger problem for Labor in WA than he is elsewhere – although it’s not clear by how much.

A poll last month by Crosby Textor showed that Shorten had a minus 26 favourability in the Perth seat of Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly by a margin of just 0.7%. That makes Shorten more unpopular in Cowan than he is in other marginal seats across the country. And it’s the reason that candidates would rather put Premier Mark McGowan in their campaign material.

Like the rest of Australia, many West Australians will vote Labor even though they don’t particularly like or trust Bill Shorten. So, we can expect more ads attacking Shorten as the Liberals look to capitalise on one of the few positives (or should that be negatives) they have to work with in WA.

Clive Palmer was in WA news for the same reason he was in everyone’s news: the Newspoll that showed that his United Australia Party would change the result in some marginal seats. That includes one of one of ours: Pearce.




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Pearce is held by Christian Porter and this election is a big moment for him. Porter was Attorney-General in Scott Morrison’s government, and he has a high profile in WA. He was also on the way to becoming premier when he took a detour into federal politics. Porter undoubtedly has ambitions and is one of the bright young(ish) things in the WA Liberal Party, so his future is important to his party’s fate in the West.

After One Nation’s disastrous campaign in the last state election, WA voters are obviously looking elsewhere and Palmer has spent a lot of money on the UAP campaign. Christian Porter and the WA Liberals will be hoping that it isn’t enough to make the difference in Pearce.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

It would be ironic, to say the least, if former Labor state Premier Jay Weatherill’s legacy will be to have delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Turnbull-Morrison governments.

Last week, water policy dominated the political and campaign agenda, with the issue of water buybacks causing significant problems for the Coalition, and the Nationals in particular. Yet the groundwork for this poisonous issue was laid when the Weatherill government set up a state royal commission into alleged water theft by the upstream states.

Since then, the issue has been a lingering problem, exacerbated by the dead fish in the Menindee. Since the revelations of the water buybacks story, this has proved a problematic issue, culminating with a remarkable interview on the ABC with the former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.

While elections are rarely ever decided in key marginal South Australian seats, this issue could be the exception. It’s striking how it has unified South Australians. When the original allegations of water fraud were revealed by the ABC, there was a press conference with all key South Australian senators, including Sarah Hanson-Young, Cory Bernadi, Nick Xenophon and Penny Wong. Commonwealth governments rarely benefit from this issue in the state where the Murray ends.

The Nationals have no presence in South Australia, and the electoral damage is likely to be limited to the Liberals in the seat of Mayo, where Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie has been strong on water policy. But this issue, so close to South Australian politics, could prove problematic on the national stage.

Tasmania

Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change

The Tasmanian North West Coast seat of Braddon is sitting on a knife-edge. Braddon is notoriously fickle, having changed hands five times since 1998, and margins are always tight.

Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat from the Liberal’s Brett Whitely in 2016. She retained the seat after having to resign and recontest it in the July 2018 citizenship byelections, but failed to make any electoral gains. She is now defending a very slim 1.7% margin.

In 2018, Keay had seven opponents. This election she is up against eight:

  • Karen Wendy Spaulding from the United Australia Party
  • independents Craig Brakey and Brett Michael Smith
  • Shane Allan from Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party
  • Liberal Gavin Pearce
  • The National’s Sally Milbourne
  • Phill Parsons from The Greens
  • Graham Gallaher from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Braddon is hard to call. In the absence of polling, local commentators are looking to the betting odds which presently place Keay as clear favourite at $1.45, with Pearce at $2.65. Despite that, some see Braddon as Liberal Party’s best chance of winning a seat in Tasmania – especially since an electoral boundary redistribution in 2017 added the more affluent Port Sorell area.




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There is no single electorate-wide issue here. Braddon is a diverse mix of regional centres and agricultural districts extending from Devonport and Latrobe in the east, through Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard, Stanley, Smithton and Waratah, then down the west coast to the mining towns of Rosebery, Zeehan, Queenstown and the tourism and fishing village of Strahan. It also includes King Island in Bass Strait.

Tasmania’s recent economic renaissance has been slow to reach many areas of this electorate. So, candidates are aiming their promises at people’s concerns over economic development, jobs, youth training, health services and education. And both major parties have been careful to match almost anything the other side offers up.

Labor’s commitment of a A$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team has emerged as one big point of difference in the strongly pro-football Braddon, while the Liberals run a campaign on what better uses that money could be put to.

Victoria

We’ll be back with an update on Victoria next week.The Conversation

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

State of the states: Adani, economics and personality politics



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The Adani coal mine has become a key issue for voters.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Nick Economou, Monash University; Chris Aulich, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, James Cook University; Richard Eccleston, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


Victoria

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University

The first week of the 2019 election campaign is complete. So far the contest is looking like a dour football match between two defensive teams. Both Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have campaigned in marginal seats in the famed “western Sydney”, where – according to legend – national elections are won or lost.

By midweek, both leaders had made it to Victoria, where there might not be many genuinely marginal seats, but the Victorian Liberal party is really anxious about the number of mid-range seats like Deakin, Flinders and even Higgins, which might be lost if an anti-Liberal swing commensurate with the state election should be repeated on May 18.

The two major party leaders have sought to reinforce the themes that underpinned the budget and budget-in-reply. The government hopes swinging voters will be enticed to vote Liberal with promises of tax cuts and warnings about Labor’s fiscal profligacy. Labor seeks to appeal to voters on health policy with grand commitments to addressing the challenges of cancer. These policy espousals occur against a backdrop of visits to marginal electorates where traps await for even the most experienced politicians.

In the seat of Reid, with its significant Chinese community, Morrison greets someone in Mandarin only to discover they are Korean. Shorten, meanwhile, meets someone suffering from cancer and who wants to know (for the benefit of the television crews, no doubt) why state Labor has done so little after promising to boost health funding at the last two state elections.




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The early loss of some major party candidates has been the only really interesting thing to happen so far. Labor has lost its candidate for Curtin, Melissa Parke, following revelations that she had criticised Israel in a speech she had previously made on Middle Eastern politics. Criticising Israel is hardly the thing Labor wants to be known for when it is seeking to defend marginal seats such as Macnamara in Victoria.

The Liberal party has lost two candidates as well. In a reminder of the ongoing section 44 debacle, Liberal candidates for the Labor-held seats of Lalor and Wills, Kate Oski and Vaishali Gosch, have had to withdraw. Apparently doubts about their citizenship status arose from questionnaires they filled in for the Australian Electoral Commission as part of the nomination process.

Given that the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters figured that up to 50% of Australians have been potentially disqualified from being candidates thanks to the High Court, something like this was bound to happen.

New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

At this stage of the campaign, Labor appears likely to hold about the same number of NSW seats as it did in 2016. A possible Labor loss in the city seat of Lindsay, where Labor’s Emma Husar isn’t recontesting, could be offset by wins in Gilmore or Reid, where sitting Liberal members Ann Sudmalis and Craig Laundy aren’t recontesting either. A small swing of less than 2.5% against the Coalition is needed for Labor to win Robertson, Banks and Page, but currently, the swing isn’t anticipated to be enough for the seats to change hands.

The Coalition has the advantage of the recent strong win at state level in NSW, although its win was marred by a backlash against the Nationals in many regional seats. The Coalition now faces the risk of losing regional seats to several strong independent candidates, such as Rob Oakeshott in Cowper and, less likely, Kevin Mack in Farrer.

In the city seat of Warringah, Liberal Party polling reveals a swing of about 12% against Tony Abbott, who is facing a serious challenge from independent Zali Steggall. If that swing were realised at the election, Steggall would win the seat from Abbott. While Steggall will gain some advantage from GetUp’s targeting of Abbott, the former prime minister has support from the Advance Australia lobby, which has already claimed that Steggall is a “fake” independent.

The battlelines are drawn between traditional and modern conservatives in this seat, with the focus on issues like climate change adaptation, refugee policy and foreign aid. After a feisty first candidates’ debate last month, and recent complaints by Steggall that Advance Australia has “sexualised” her advertising hoardings, this seat promises a close and bare-knuckle contest.

The loss of any of these seats would make Scott Morrison’s task of winning government more difficult. With redistributions since the 2016 elections, the Coalition notionally holds 73 seats in the new 151-member house and cannot afford to lose any seats.

This week we also include seats in the ACT. Redistribution has added a third seat to the ACT, and all seats now have new boundaries. The notional swings needed by the Coalition vary from 9% to 13%, suggesting comfortable wins to Labor. But the Greens are hopeful their candidate in central Canberra, environmentalist and musician Tim Hollo, may be able to capture sufficient votes from the young, urban dwellers in the electorate to win.

In the Senate, the status quo of one seat for Labor and one for the Coalition is likely to remain with Labor’s Katy Gallagher, who is expected to be returned after losing her seat over dual citizenship. Liberal Zed Seselja only needs 33% of the two-party preferred vote to secure a quota and hold his seat.

Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

The federal government’s final go-ahead for Adani’s groundwater management plan has sparked a large scale grassroots campaign pushing back against the two major parties in Herbert.

The LNP, ALP, and Katter’s Australia Party all support the mega mine. Herbert incumbent ALP’s Cathy O’Toole is on record saying:

If this project has gone through the processes and the regulatory requirements and it’s passed, as it appears it has, it will go ahead, and it will be good for jobs in this city.

The Greens are running on a Stop Adani ticket. Millennials and the undecided voters will play an important role in this election as climate change and mining jobs become key election issues.

An Australia Institute report this week shows that 68% of Queenslanders want strong government action on climate change, 50% want no new coal mines, and 64% are looking for a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. Leichhardt in far north Queensland, one of the eight LNP electorates on a majority of less than 4%, sees climate change as a major issue.

Last federal election, preference votes from minor parties – mainly One Nation – helped get Labor over the line in Herbert. With One Nation yet to declare a candidate in Herbert, Labor’s early seeming rejection of a preference deal with Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) could backfire.

Labor assumed that Palmer would still owe A$70 million dollars to the Herbert community. That all changed on Monday with Palmer’s announcement he will repay wages owed to Queensland Nickel workers.

Palmer has announced he will run for the Senate, and he has nominated local rugby league star Greg Dowling as his candidate for Herbert. With no sign of a One Nation putting up candidates in Herbert, it could come down to a tight race between LNP, ALP, the Greens and the minor parties of UAP and Katter’s Australia Party. Rejecting a preference deal with UAP could be harmful to Labor, if Palmer’s payback bounce and recruiting of local sports star wins him votes come May 18.

Down south and Liberal incumbent Peter Dutton is facing a different challenge. Dutton’s role in Malcolm Turnbull’s undoing is still fresh in the minds of Dickson voters. As Michelle Grattan has pointed out:

Nationally, Peter Dutton will have a big footprint in the campaign. It won’t be a helpful one for Morrison.

Dickson is one of the eight marginal LNP seats with a majority of less than 4%. The campaigning there is already getting down to personality politics. Labor has taken the lead with a social media campaign weaponising Dutton’s role in the spill. Comments Dutton made about Labor candidate’s Ali France’s disability will not help shore up support.




Read more:
The myth of ‘the Queensland voter’, Australia’s trust deficit, and the path to Indigenous recognition


Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

Scott Morrison has his work cut out for him when it comes to convincing West Australians to accept his core message to voters: that they should reelect the Liberal-National Coalition government because they’re better economic managers than Labor.

He has two main problems. First, voters in Western Australia threw Colin Barnett’s Liberal-National Coalition government out in 2017, in part, because of its economic record. Second, many West Australians felt that their quality of life declined during the mining boom, so they know that lots of good economic data doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s lives will improve.

Economic management wasn’t the only issue that resulted in the Barnett government’s loss. Tension between the Coalition parties and the preference deal with One Nation didn’t help. But Labor focused part of their campaign on the Coalition government’s economic mismanagement during that election. And voters responded.

The evidence that conservative governments are just naturally better at managing an economy is thin, and there is just as much evidence that the reverse it true, as economics professor James Morley has pointed out. But the idea won’t go away as long as the economic orthodoxy is that governments shouldn’t interfere in the economy. And Australians believes that Coalition governments don’t interfere. Both views are open to question.

While other Australians may not question these assumptions about economic management, their recent experience with a Coalition government means that many West Australians will question them, and they’ll need convincing that they shouldn’t.

On the second problem, many West Australians recall a time when the economy was booming. Mining booming. And few of us felt better off, and many felt worse off. Of course it didn’t help that state governments, of both parties, increased utilities charges during this period. But the boom meant that the price of housing became ridiculous (and destined to crash), rentals were very hard to come by and, applying the definitive cappuccino test, we were paying more for our coffees than anyone else in Australia.

We had a two-speed economy shoved in our faces and one takeaway from this was that everyone doing well is not just about the economy doing well. The prime minister will get a chance to explain how I’ve gotten things terribly wrong when he appears in the first of the Leaders’ Debate in Perth on April 29.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

Political memories can be short. At the last federal election, perhaps the single biggest factor shaping voting patterns was the impact of Nick Xenophon’s Centre Alliance. For many years, Xenophon was a mainstay of South Australian politics, with a canny knack for finding appeal. The ubiquitous politician was both a longstanding member of the SA parliament, first elected in 1997, and then a federal senator from 2008 to 2017. Xenophon, at one stage touted as a future premier for South Australia, left Canberra to try and make a splash at the 2018 state election.




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Three years ago, at the national level, the Centre Alliance were poised to become a third force in South Australian politics, and a key disruptor to the major parties. In 2013, Xenophon’s team picked up a remarkable 24.9% of the vote, and in 2016 this was a still an impressive 21.3% of the vote. Last time out, the Centre Alliance had one member of the House of Representatives – Rebekha Sharkie picking off Liberal Jamie Briggs in Mayo, and three Senate positions. In terms of vote share, just over 250,000 South Australians voted for the the Centre Alliance.

But what now? With the charismatic Xenophon off the stage, it remains unclear what will happen to their vote share. While Sharkie is likely to hold off the challenge from Georgina Downer again, and it’s unclear how much impact the Centre Alliance will have. They are running three candidates, including Sharkie, for the lower house. Skye Kakoschke-Moore will be their lead Senate candidate.

At best, they seem to be angling to play a key kingmaker role in the Senate, making noises about limiting a potential Labor government’s franking credits and negative gearing policies. Yet, this seems a reactive campaign, and lacks Xenophon’s ability to pick key outlier issues. Moreover, where will moderate liberal and conservative voters find their voice?

Tasmania

Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

Labor now holds four of the five House of Representatives seats on the Apple Isle. With popular independent Andrew Wilkie’s vice-like grip on Tasmania’s fifth seat, the recently renamed electorate of Clark (formerly Denison), the chance of a Coalition upset next month seems remote.

But Tasmanian voters have ignored national trends, and delivered more than their fair share of upsets in recent elections, so there must be an outside chance that the Coalition could claw back a seat against the national tide.

Labor’s Ross Hart holds Bass, which takes in Launceston and much of North East Tasmania, by a reasonably comfortable 5.4%. But history suggests Labor shouldn’t be complacent given the electorate has been a graveyard for political careers in recent years. The last time a sitting member was returned for a second term was back in 2001, with the last five elections delivering big swings and unprecedented volatility.

The Liberals will be pinning their hopes on Bridget Archer, the mayor of the working class town of George Town, near Launceston. Archer may be the circuit breaker the Liberals need. She has a high profile in a community traditionally dominated by Labor, and, unlike the vocal conservative Andrew Nikolic who lost the seat in 2016, she won’t have to run the gauntlet of a national GetUp! campaign.

Scott Morrison has visited Bass twice in recent weeks, and a new poll commissioned by a forest industry group put the Liberals in front on a two-party preferred basis. But this result may have been skewed by the design of the poll and its focus on the future of forestry, an industry long championed by the Liberals in Tasmania.

On the other side of the ledger, Labor’s commitment to more funding for health and education, and greater tax relief for lower income households, is more likely to resonate with the electors of Bass than the Coalition’s emphasis on smaller government, and retaining concessions for property investors and self-funded retirees.

While the smart money is on Labor’s Ross Hart holding Bass, history suggests that we shouldn’t rule out an upset on election night.The Conversation

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University; Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science; Director, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Federal election 2019: state of the states



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Keep up-to-date election campaign in each state.
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Nick Economou, Monash University; Chris Aulich, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, James Cook University; Michael Lester, University of Tasmania; Richard Eccleston, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

We now know that the next federal election will take place on May 18. To guide you through the campaign, our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


Victoria

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University

For the first time in many contests, Victoria is shaping up as a crucial battleground in the 2019 federal election.

Normally there are few marginal seats in Victoria that involve a contest between Labor and the Liberal Party. In recent times, there’s been more interest in Labor’s battle with the Greens in the inner-city seat of Melbourne, and the election of the independent Cathy McGowan in the rural seat of Indi (McGowan will not be re-contesting this seat in 2019).

If the Victorian state election held in November 2018 is any guide, the historical pattern where few marginal seats change hands will be broken. Labor could be on the verge of a landslide in Victoria.

Even before a vote has been cast, the 2018 federal redistribution has already created a new Labor seat in Melbourne’s suburban north-west – to be called “Fraser” – and the previously Liberal seat of Dunkley is now notionally Labor.

If the anti-Liberal swing that occurred in the state election was replicated in the federal contest, other Liberal seats would also fall. In the 2016 federal election, Labor won a two party vote of 51.8%. In the 2018 state election, Labor’s statewide two party vote was 57.3% – a difference of 5.5 percentage points.

If we see a similar swing in the federal election, Labor would gain Chisholm, LaTrobe, Casey and McEwen, with Deakin and possibly Flinders also being won.

There was more bad news for the Coalition out of the 2018 state election. The state district of Mildura in Victoria’s rural far north-west, previously held by the National Party, was won by independent Ali Cupper. Mildura comprises about half of the federal seat of Mallee, whose sitting member, Andrew Broad, has since resigned over an internet sex scandal. This formerly safe National seat is now clearly vulnerable – particularly to a high profile local independent.

In the half-senate election, meanwhile, arguably the most significant contest will involve the Derryn Hinch Justice Party. In all likelihood, Labor will win two seats, the Greens will secure one seat, and the joint Liberal-National ticket ought to secure two seats. The final seat will be battled over by the Coalition and a host of minor parties, of which the Hinch party will be the most prominent. Indeed, Derryn Hinch himself is up for re-election and this may well be reason enough for the Hinch Justice Party to prevail.

join The Conversation in Melbourne

New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

Most political analysts argue that the forthcoming federal election will be won or lost in Queensland. While there may be more marginal seats in contention in that state, there are a number of ongoing issues which play out both nationally and in NSW which might influence the election result.

The first is the tension between conservative and moderate Liberals. This tension underpins the challenge by independent Liberal Zali Steggall to former PM Tony Abbott in the Sydney seat of Warringah. The contest also highlights election funding. Steggall is receiving support from Get Up!, which has targeted “hard right” Liberals Abbott and Dutton. Abbott holds his seat by 11%, but in 2016 this result was achieved against challenges from Labor and the Greens and not such a strong, local candidate from the right.

A second issue relates to the poor performance of the Nationals in the recent NSW elections, when many traditional National voters switched their votes to independents or to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party. This suggests that the regional seat of Cowper might now become more marginal, especially since the Nationals’ Luke Hartsuyker is not recontesting. Independent Rob Oakeshott is trying for a second time to win, although he will need a swing of more than 4.6%.

Third, many voters have been angered by the overthrow of sitting prime ministers and in Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth showed this anger by preferring independent Liberal Kerryn Phelps over the endorsed Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma. Much interest now focuses on whether Phelps’ vote will evaporate as anger wanes. Sharma is a strong candidate but Phelps has made a significant contribution to parliament, especially in sponsoring the “medevac” legislation.

There are few marginal seats in NSW that might be exposed by a swing away from the government, but in Gilmore, retiring Liberal Ann Sudmalis won in 2016 by just 1,503 votes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has intervened by making a “captain’s call” in nominating former Labor President Warren Mundine, so this seat is likely to be close. Other marginal seats in NSW include Robertson and Banks held by the government by less than 2%, and the Labor-held seat of Paterson.

Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

Queensland is a Liberal National stronghold. At the last federal election, the Coalition picked up 21 of 30 Queensland seats. The Australian Labor Party picked up eight seats, and Katter’s Australian Party was re-elected in the seat of Kennedy. Labor’s win over the Coalition in Herbert in North Queensland gave them their only Queensland seat outside of the state’s metropolitan area.

Queensland’s population is concentrated along the southeast corridor that stretches from Brisbane to Ipswich and Toowoomba, so funding allocations are a divisive issue in regional and rural Queensland. The concentration of much of the state’s infrastructure into one corner has seen the minor parties – Katter’s Australian Party and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party – set up offices in Townsville CBD in recent years. The message is clear, vote for them and they will look after the North’s interest.

With Labor hanging onto Herbert by a mere 37 votes, the candidate with local interests will be key. The first woman to hold Herbert, incumbent Cathy O’Toole, is a born and bred Townsvillian. She will face the Coalition’s Philip Thompson – last year’s Queensland Young Australian of the year. While the two locals battle it out, the minor parties will be the ones to watch.

Katter’s Australian Party, Palmer’s United Australia Party, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will be in a three-way battle for preference votes. One Nation benefited from Clive Palmer’s absence from the 2016 election, picking up a 13% swing in the northern suburb of Bluewater (in the seat of Herbert). This year the spoils will need to be split.

For the Greens, the Adani coalmine and Great Barrier Reef will be key issues. National and local support from Stop Adani and GetUp! Australia’s campaign will take a local concerns to the national level. GetUp! also have their sight on another seat: the minister for home affairs Peter Dutton’s electorate of Dickson.

Dutton has a stronger majority than Herbert’s Cathy O’Toole, but he too is a high profile scalp. Unlike O’Toole, Dutton has held the seat for nearly two decades. Over the past 18 years, the Coalition under Dutton has seen their majority dwindle with a margin of just 1.7% in 2016. With a 5.1% swing away from the Coalition in favour of Labor at the last election, Labor candidate Ali France will be a strong contender.

Whatever happens on polling day, Queenslanders will probably stay with form, and vote with the Coalition. Whether the Coalition will secure more than 21 seats will depend on its local focus on jobs, the environment and who can close the divide between the metropolitan south and the rest of Queensland.

Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

Until budget night, the GST issue in Western Australia looked as if it had gone away – finally. West Australian folk are as sick of it as everyone else.

Scott Morrison’s government committed to a GST top-up for Western Australia and introduced a floor into the system that will mean that Western Australians won’t be punished as much for not having poker machines outside casinos. Last night’s budget and a A$1 billion dollar shortfall for Western Australia means that the issue might come back.

The point about the ongoing resentment toward the GST split is that it was, and is, a manifestation of the perennial complaint of West Australians: that, apart from the income generated from resources, no one in Canberra cares about Western Australia.

While the GST short-fall affects all states, Labor will work hard to get WA voters to believe that the latest GST problem is another sign that the Liberals don’t care about us. That’s federal politicking in Western Australia.

And Canberra has really cared lately. Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, brought his shadow cabinet to Western Australia two weeks ago to reassure us that a Labor government would really care, and will spend billions on infrastructure and other projects in the state. Last week Scott Morrison came to announce that a Liberal-National government would spend another A$1.6 billion on roads and rail in addition the A$4.7 billion WA got for its GST top-up.

Western Australia Treasurer Ben Wyatt, like everyone else, sees the recent visits and promises and the budget as signs that the major parties are very interested in Western Australian seats. Well, some seats. For the Liberals it’s Cowan and Perth. For Labor it’s Hasluck, Pearce, Swan, Stirling and Canning.

Pearce is particularly interesting because it is Western Australia star Liberal, Christian Porter’s, seat. But there’s always the matter of Durack and O’Connor being held by the Liberals when they should be National Party seats. They’re huge regional seats that the Nationals hoped to win (Durack) or win back (O’Connor) in the last election but didn’t.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

South Australia is rarely a game-changer in Australian federal elections, but there are some key clashes taking place in the state. While the issue of who forms government might not be decided in the driest state in the country, a few electoral contests will tell us a good deal about the state of the parties, and the mood of the electorate.

The most marginal seat in SA is Boothby, with conservative Liberal Nicolle Flint sitting on a nominal lead of 2.8%. If the voters are keen to punish the Liberals, then Flint may not be able to capitalise on first term incumbency. Critically, GetUp! have targeted Flint, and will be hopeful after their success in Tasmania last time round.

There are other key seats, far less marginal than Boothby, that could also tell us something about the extent of voter dissatisfaction with the Morrison government. In the seat of Sturt, currently held by the ubiquitous, but now retiring Christopher Pyne, the Liberals only have a nominal margin of 5.8%. Pyne has not left the preselected James Stevens much time to gain name recognition in the constituency. Stevens is SA Premier Steven Marshall’s former chief of staff.

In other circumstances, the Liberals might hope to claw back the seat of Mayo – currently held by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie. Sharkie was caught up in the citizenship crisis, and beat Georgina Downer in a byelection. Downer is back again, drawing on some significant support, and will hope that she can make better inroads than her byelection effort.

Economically, South Australians will be concerned that the state is treading water. Energy, climate breakdown, cost of living concerns, and also the dead fish of the Menindee are key issues preoccupying the SA electorate.

Given the Liberal leadership crisis, the voters may well be unforgiving.

Tasmania

Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change.

Tasmania has emerged as an electoral battleground in the early “faux” election campaign. There have been multiple visits by Coalition and Labor frontbenchers with a long list of project funding announcements and promises.

And the reason for that is clear. Labor holds four of the state’s five House of Representative seats, but only one is classified as “safe” following an electoral redistribution in 2017. The other seat – the Hobart-based seat of Clark (formerly Denison) – is held by popular independent Andrew Wilkie.

For each seat to change hands after the redistribution, Bass nominally would require a swing of 5.4%, Braddon just 1.7% (although there has since been a byelection in that seat), and Lyons, 3.8%. Franklin, currently held by Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health Julie Collins, would require a swing of 10.7% and is considered a safe Labor seat, even in these volatile times.

An opinion poll on federal voting intentions conducted by local pollster EMRS last December put Labor on 40% statewide, up from 37.9% at the 2016 election. The Liberals were down from 35.4% to 33%, and the Greens were on 11%.

This Tasmanian poll, combined with the fact that the Coalition continue to trail Labor nationally, suggests that the Liberals have little chance of regaining any of the three seats (Bass, Braddon and Lyons) they lost to Labor back in 2016. The lack of major new announcements for Tasmania in the budget also suggests that government strategists are more focused on holding ground on the mainland than winning back lost territory in Tasmania.

But, as we will explain in our seat-by seat coverage over the course of the campaign, the Liberals have endorsed new candidates in these three key seats. All Tasmanian politics is local, so personalities matter. Whether these fresh faces are enough to cause an upset or two come May remains to be seen.The Conversation

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University; Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania; Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science; Director, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan Institute Orange Book 2018. State governments matter, vote wisely



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The beauty of our federation is that each state can learn from each other.
Shutterstock

John Daley, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


Election season is looming.

Voters in Victoria go to the polls within weeks; in New South Wales within months.

State policy has rarely been more important. But what should the priorities be, not only for the governments in Australia’s two biggest states, but also for the other states whose elections are further away?

In this series for The Conversation, based on our State Orange Book 2018, the Grattan Institute outlines where state and territory governments should focus to improve Australia.

There are problems a plenty

The problems aren’t hard to find. Per capita income has been flat for five years as the mining boom subsided. Home ownership is falling fast among the young and the poor. Those on low incomes are spending more on housing, and homelessness is rising, particularly in NSW.

Our schools are not keeping up with the best in the world. In most states, people are waiting longer for medical treatments. Electricity prices have increased significantly over the past few years while the climate policy wars rage on.

A new State Scorecard compiled by Grattan Institute compares states and territories on the most important outcomes for each policy area. In many cases, some states are much better than others because their governments have implemented important reforms – often without much fanfare.

Victoria’s hospitals cost less per patient and contribute more to better health than elsewhere. Queensland’s school students learn more in Years 3 to 5, and they are performing much better than they used to. Many Western Australian school outcomes are also much better.

The Australian Capital Territory has started to replace inefficient stamp duties with a much more efficient broad-based property tax. NSW has used the good times to improve its budget position. NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT have all increased the transparency of political decision-making and tightened controls over money in politics.

But each state can learn from the others

Every state and territory can learn from others and do better.

State governments – particularly NSW and Victoria – face population pressures. They need to resist political pressure to wind back planning reforms that have helped to increase housing supply, and instead go further to ensure enough housing is built, particularly in established suburbs, to accommodate rapidly growing populations.




Read more:
Australia’s dangerous fantasy: diverting population growth to the regions


NSW and Victoria should commission work to enable the introduction of time-of-day road and public transport pricing to manage congestion in Sydney and Melbourne.

All states should stop announcing transport projects before they have been analysed rigorously. They should also evaluate completed projects properly.

There’s much states can do

Although the Commonwealth controls many economic levers, there are many others that are primarily state government responsibilities.

Land-use planning policies don’t only affect housing affordability. They are also amongst the biggest policy levers for state governments to boost economic growth.

Geography matters a lot to economic growth. An advanced economy like Australia is dominated by services industries, which often benefit from co-location and tend to concentrate in major cities.

How much businesses can co-locate is affected by planning rules that guide the availability of land both for businesses and the homes of the people who work in them.




Read more:
RBA research shows that zoning restrictions are driving up housing prices


Fewer restrictions on land use and subdivision will increase economic growth by enabling more people to access more jobs, while allowing firms to optimise their location.

There are other economic levers. All states should follow the lead of the ACT and replace stamp duties with broad-based property taxes.

States should reform electricity markets to encourage reliability and reduce emissions – whether or not the Commonwealth cooperates.

And much states should not do

States should stop promising to restrict competition in order to increase the sale price of assets like ports.

And they should accept that no amount of regional spending is likely to do much to accelerate regional growth beyond what is going to happen anyway.

The State Orange Book 2018 shows that the states and territories could deliver services better.

Each can be guided by the best

Other states should follow Victoria’s lead and reduce the cost of each procedure in public hospitals, and the variations between them.

And they should develop more community-based prevention programs to reduce the disparity between regional and urban health outcomes.

States should lift progress for all school students by identifying and spreading good teaching practices at the same time as strengthening the evidence base on what works best in the classroom.

They should also invest more in early learning for the most disadvantaged students.

And make their decisions more open

Institutional reforms are needed.

States need more visibility of their long-term budget positions.

While institutional accountability is improving in many states, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory need to limit election spending and make political donations and lobbying more transparent.

Because they matter

State government doesn’t always get as much attention as our federal politics. Often the important things sound a bit boring: the management of hospitals and schools; the rigorous assessment of proposed transport projects; and the minutiae of planning schemes.

But when these things are done well, they make a big difference to people’s lives.

So when people cast their votes in the Victorian and NSW elections, there is a lot at stake.

We hope this series will help voters to understand the key issues, and perhaps help leaders in every state understand the difference they can make.The Conversation

John Daley, Chief Executive Officer, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If we scrapped the states, increasing Canberra’s clout would be a backward step


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

If you were starting Australia all over again, you would have a national government and 20 regional governments. That was one of the things I agreed with Gough Whitlam on. … Anything that can reduce or end the duplication between Commonwealth, state and local governments is a good idea. – John Winston Howard (quoted in The Weekend Australian, November 9, 1991)

One of the hardy perennials of Australian politics is the claim that the states are obsolete and should be done away with. This view has adherents on all sides of politics, particularly those in the Commonwealth government with long and frustrating experience of dealing with the states. The latest call has come, not for the first time, from former prime minister Bob Hawke.

On the face of it, abolition of the states would imply a highly centralised system in which the powers of the states were transferred to the Commonwealth. However, few proponents of state abolition accept this implication. Instead, it is argued, the three-tier system of federal, state and local governments could be replaced by a two-tier system with 20 or so regional governments, with a resulting reduction in the number of politicians and bureaucrats.

This idea sounds appealing enough in the abstract, which is how it is normally presented. In practice, however, it is necessary to define regions with natural boundaries.

How would the political map be redrawn?

It is obvious, at a minimum, that each existing state and territory capital must have its own region. Also, Geelong clearly belongs with Melbourne, Wollongong, Newcastle and Gosford with Sydney, and the Southeast Queensland region (Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba) with Brisbane.

At this point, only a few urban centres with populations in the vicinity of 100,000 are left — Townsville and Cairns in Queensland, and Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria.

Geographically speaking, Townsville and Cairns could form the core of a natural northern region, including Mackay, Charters Towers and Rockhampton. Unfortunately, the two cities are such bitter rivals that even the name of the putative region (North Queensland versus Far North Queensland) would be a source of civil strife. Rather than be governed by the other, either city would prefer to be ruled from Brisbane or Canberra.

The problem with Tasmania is the opposite. In practice, Tasmania is already divided into two parts. These have separate newspapers, breweries and educational institutions, not to mention attitudes.

Although Hobart is the seat of government, the northern coast, including Launceston, Burnie and Devonport, has half the population and most of the growth prospects. Far from strengthening regional diversity, the formal division of the state into two regions would simply strengthen the north at the expense of the south.

Suppose, however, that we allow North Queensland and Northern Tasmania as regions. The ten regions described so far include urban centres accounting for more than 75% of Australia’s population. When their immediate hinterland is taken into account, the figure is probably between 85% and 90%.

The concentration of Australians in the big urban centres – font sizes of place names are scaled here in line with populations – presents problems for creating representative regional governments.
shutterstock

What about the rest of Australia?

It is simply nonsense to suggest that the remaining 2-3 million people could be divided up into ten sustainable regions, as the 20-region idea would suggest.

The whole of Western Australia outside Perth has barely half a million people. South Australia outside Adelaide has fewer than 400,000. Road, rail and air transport networks all radiate from Adelaide and Perth. Any regional government formed in these states would have little option but to base its operations in the existing state capital.

Superficially, the prospects for regionalism look better in the eastern states. New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland each have well over a million people living outside the metropolitan conurbations. But the prospects are superficial indeed.

The biggest provincial centres in the Melbourne sphere of influence are Ballarat, Bendigo, the Latrobe Valley and Wodonga (usually lumped with its NSW twin, Albury). Ballarat and Bendigo are close neighbours, but the other centres have little in common except that they are not Melbourne. The same is true of Bathurst-Orange, Coffs Harbour and Wagga in NSW.

Jeff Kennett lost office in Victoria to a revolt by non-metropolitan voters, who might not be better off if the current states are abolished.
Julian Smith/AAP

Rural and regional Australians feel neglected by governments based in faraway coastal cities, and often with good reason. But under the current system, country voters frequently exercise the balance of power and can punish governments that are too focused on the interests of the metropolis. Jeff Kennett found this out to his cost as Victorian premier in 1999.

In a system of regional governments, this influence would be lost. The regions would still depend on the former capitals for transport hubs, teaching hospitals, major universities and a host of other services, but would no longer have any political leverage over them.

In dealings between say, a government of Northwestern New South Wales and a government of Greater Sydney, it is not hard to imagine who would lose out.

Beware the unitary state

The only way the system could be made to work is if the federal government stepped in to level the playing field. In practice, the Commonwealth would assume all the powers of the former states and the regional governments would be glorified shire councils.

The result would be a unitary state, easily the largest in the world by area and almost certainly one of the most fractious. Decisions on matters like bus services and housing developments in say, Brisbane, would be made by bureaucrats in Canberra and ministers whose electorates might be in Perth.

Voters who already view Canberra as remote and distant would become even more even more hostile when every rail breakdown and hospital mishap could be blamed on that faraway city.

And, although the states would be gone, the geographical realities they represent would not. The fights we now see at meetings of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) would be played out within the national government.

The allocation of ministries such as health and education between the former states would be a matter of vital concern. State-based factions would become even more important than they are now.

The desire for uniformity, which is central to the argument for unitary government, would run into the reality that conditions in a country as large as Australia are incredibly diverse.

To take a trivial example, nearly all existing unitary governments are confined to a single time zone. The need to co-ordinate every aspect of public policy with a government in a different time zone would increase the alienation already felt in places like Adelaide and Perth.

The push for regional government may be unsuited to Australian conditions, but it is at least consistent with the general tendency around the world towards subsidiarity – that is, allowing decisions specific to a particular group of people to be made, as far as possible, by those people.

Previously unitary states like the UK and even France have devolved much of their formerly centralised power. A shift by Australia towards a unitary government, motivated by such trivial concerns as the desire for uniformity and administrative cost savings, would be a retrograde step.

The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Heed Hawke’s call – Australian federalism is an idea whose time has ended


Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

Former prime minister Bob Hawke’s recent call for the state governments to be abolished is worthy of support.

Labor has historically been in favour of centralisation, while the Coalition has supported federalism. So, Hawke’s position is not surprising. But leaving aside party politics, there are good reasons why Australia should consider this change to its Constitution.

Solves no problem and confers no benefit

The reason Australia has a federal Constitution is a negative one. It was due to fear from the colonies of domination by each other or by the new national government.

Taken at its best, the adoption of federalism in preference to a unitary system was the necessary price of creating Australia as a nation. At its worst, it was a base compromise pandering to colonial jealousies, which now saddles Australia with an unnecessarily complex and expensive form of government.

Unlike in countries such as Nigeria, where federalism serves the purpose of providing for ethnic autonomy, Australian federalism solves no problem and confers no benefit.

The supposed major benefit of federalism is that it provides protection against tyranny by diffusing power. But federalism does not affect what governments can do to individuals, only which government may do them. Distributions of power are not as effective a protection of liberty as are restraints on power.

Federalism cannot provide an effective limit to what the state and Commonwealth parliaments can in combination do to the individual. Only a Bill of Rights can do that.

So, Australia is left with nine governments and 15 legislative chambers for a population of 24 million.

The costs of this are staggering. In 2002, the annual costs of federalism to the economy was estimated at A$40 billion – a figure that would be much higher today.

This covers costs such as running state and territory governments, costs to the Commonwealth of interacting with the states, and compliance costs to business. But it excludes intangible costs in the form of time and inconvenience: think of simple matters such as car registration or entry into a new school system experienced by anyone who has moved interstate.

Public opinion in favour

There is ample evidence that Australians, notoriously resistant to constitutional change, would support abolishing the states.

A 2014 survey by the Griffith Federalism Project found 71% of respondents favoured changing the current system. Among this majority, there were preferences for different allocations of power between national, regional and local governments.

The idea of replacing the states with regions defined along rational economic lines was an interesting feature of these results. But even more significant were the results of a 2014 survey commissioned by lobby group Beyond Federation, in which 78% of respondents supported the idea of Australia having a single set of laws for the country. So, it seems that constitutional reform to abolish the states would be well received by voters.

Making such a change would mean that, as in New Zealand and the UK, Australia would have a single (national) parliament with comprehensive lawmaking power. That parliament could delegate lawmaking authority to regions and/or local governments, in the same way as state parliaments currently delegate power to local authorities.

However, there would be no more disputes over which lawmaking power the national parliament had, and no doubt that national law overrode regional and local law. The legal system would be much simpler, and compliance costs to business and individuals radically reduced.

Australia would also have one department of education, one department of agriculture, one department of the environment and so on, instead of multiple agencies currently.

Disputes over shares of Commonwealth revenue allocated to the states is a constant feature of federal-state relations. All that would be a thing of the past. Expenditure could be determined according to the needs of people, irrespective of where they lived and without reference to artificial state boundaries.

The current focus on “reforming” the federation avoids the real issue: why have federalism at all? If we were writing a constitution from new, would we really recreate the current nine-government system? If the answer to that is “no”, there is a good reason to change it.

The Conversation

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 27 July 2013


The Gonski reforms for education in Australia continue to cause problems for the ALP, with several states and territories refusing to sign up. The links below are to articles covering stories on some of the states that refuse to sign up.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/nt-rejects-federal-schools-deal/story-fn59nlz9-1226686542820
http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/no-deal-barnett-refuses-to-budge-on-schools-20130726-2qpji.html

India: Latest Persecution News


The following article reports on the latest persecution news out of India. There have been attacks on Christians across three Indian states.

http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue15928.html

Latest Persecution News – 26 March 2012


Parents, Islamic Extremists Beat Young Woman in India

The following article reports on a young woman (Rekha Khatoon) who gave thanks for her healing being beaten by both her parents and Islamic extremists in West Bengal state.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/india/article_1454450.html

 

Christians Targeted in Sudan’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

The following article reports on how Christians are being removed from the Nuba Mountains region, along with black Africans in an attempt to appease other Islamic states.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/sudan/article_1454719.html

 

Parents Torn Over Loss of Daughter in Nigeria

The following article reports on the disappearance of the daughter of a Roman Catholic couple in Nigeria. They received a phone call from someone claiming to have killed their daughter in September 2011 and nothing has been seen of their daughter since then.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/nigeria/article_1457986.html

 

Salafist Leaders Celebrate Death of Coptic Pope in Egypt

The following article reports on the celebrations of Egyptian Salafist Muslims following the death of Coptic Pope Shenouda III.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/egypt/article_1459396.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.