April 9th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Why did Terri Schiavo have to die?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Welfare to work: serious changes needed

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Trade and Australia's farm dependent economy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Infrastructure back on the agenda

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Report whitewashes declining film standards

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia, Indonesia to negotiate new treaty

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Relearning Federalism / 'New' thoughts on marijuana / Kofi's whitewash

Neglect of public infrastructure (letter)

New deal for superannuation (letter)

Compelling case for rail transport (letter)

Selling the nation's assets (letter)

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: The Labor Split - 50 years on

FAMILY: AFA calls for adopting parents to be married

FAMILY LAW: Family Court 'a monstrosity'

BIOETHICS: Australian stem cell breakthrough - adult nose cells pluripotent

OPINION: Pot goes in the too-hard basket

ENVIRONMENT: The death of environmentalism?

BOOKS: OUTRAGE: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage

BOOKS: LIBERATION'S CHILDREN: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age

Books promotion page

Relearning Federalism / 'New' thoughts on marijuana / Kofi's whitewash

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 9, 2005
Relearning Federalism

As the big battle over taxation is being joined in Australia (as it is in Europe), there are signs that Canberra is going to demand that the states start husbanding their resources, which have been greatly, indeed surprisingly, swelled by the magnitude of the GST receipts.

The states must give some account of where that money has gone. Having made themselves unaccountable to their local electorates, by a mixture of obstacles to FOI investigations, massive PR machines, protective if not collusive local journalists and massaging the figures, our state Labor governments don't see why they should be accountable to federal voters, even though these are the same people - and now being doubly taxed.

Some will remember the bad old days leading up to World War II when citizens had to fill in two separate tax returns - one federal and one state - and how that issue was settled by wartime Labor governments. The feds were to have first bite of the tax dollar, as of right, and they would be the tax-collector.

That is what we thought would happen, and for many years it did. Now we stand accused of being more heavily taxed. For the states - especially in recent years - have virtually showered new charges and taxes on their subjects, such as to become the second major taxing authority; but with little sense of responsibility as to where this could all end - and I'll allude to an overseas example in a moment.

Despite the unparalleled resources available to them, the states, in varying degrees, are in crisis - viz, hospitals, police, education, infrastructure and transport - and to a degree barely imaginable just a few years ago. They say it is a shortage of money and want Canberra to give them more, not less.

The headline in The Australian (March 22, 2005), in speaking of "States' big lies on surgery queues", described just one facet of the unfolding disaster of public hospitals. But it could stand in for the states' handling of schools, tertiary institutions, public transport, the police and the arts. Everything seems to be about hype, conspicuous waste and padding the public payroll, to be paid for by even more punitive and wide-ranging taxes and charges and cutting basic services to the bone. Thus, a Victorian state building spree on, let's say, a gallery, goes $30 million over budget. The Victorian multi-purpose taxi scheme, for people needing half-priced taxis, was budgeted to cost $30 million. So ... cut it to the bone. But not act on wayward contractors, unions and public servants. Harrass your mates? Never!

The Victorian Labor Government has increased its public service numbers by 16 per cent since replacing Kennett. That extra billion dollars in salaries per annum is found by levying the iniquitous land tax.

You would think that such an increase in personnel would lead to an improvement in delivery and service, whereas the contrary is occurring, as we know. The solution, according to the states, is more money, which means more staff.

Meantime, the basic depravity of the health systems was quickly summarised by the Queensland AMA president, Dr David Molloy. Patients are kept off waiting-lists and the waiting times for many common procedures are not monitored. "You can't have heart surgery until you have an angiogram first, and you can't have bowel surgery until you have a colonoscopy or endoscopy. And there are long waits for these, somewhere between six months and two years.

"But these procedures are not always included in the official waiting-list data. They are very selective in what procedures they measure the waiting-lists for."

Chris Blenkin, an orthopaedic specialist at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, said that patients typically waited 66 weeks to get an appointment with him and a further nine months to have surgery.

Is it surprising that increasing calls are being made to transfer public health and public education to full Commonwealth control, given the momentous decline in performance and financial stability of these state instrumentalities - and this at a time of unprecedented revenue-raising and dispersal?

Of course, quite apart from the vested interests to be overcome, the task of creating a Commonwealth-wide public medicine system would be an enormous administrative challenge. But it shows how grievously our state political systems are failing us.

A country with a central government and strong provincial governments is Argentina, one of the two or three most prosperous nations per capita in the world at the beginning of last century.

Continuous vote-catching profligacy on the part of both tiers of legislative power, finally beggared that country. Capital fled, investors backed off, the middle classes were ruined.

When the central government eventually went, cap in hand, to the World Bank, the IMF and Big international capital, to be bailed out, their enormous debts rescheduled and their currency saved, they were given an austerity and rationalisation plan, which they had to follow if overseas support were to continue.

This is not the place to discuss the efficacy or justice of the proposals themselves. The relevant fact is that a provincial political leader could still win notoriety and beat up support by defying the fiscal requirements of the central government, and abusing the hated foreigners who had the money.

Chaos and decline continued until some measure of co-operation in a common financial strategy was achieved, although it may be too late.

We could find ourselves going down that same path, if provincial demagogy, corruption and ineptitude continue to hold sway in our states.

"New" thoughts on marijuana

The Dutch and now the British governments are having second thoughts about the "harmless" characteristics of marijuana, and reconsidering their previous legislative tolerance of this drug. For the connection, for some users, between ingesting hash and then moving into psychotic states, has been noted. The governments are rethinking, for the social and financial consequences of a psychosis epidemic, or subculture, are only too apparent.

This is all happening, they say, on the basis of new information. Britain's Tories are accusing Blair's people of a total opportunistic reversal of policy, and they are right.

The facts about the malignancy of marijuana have been well known for a long time; News Weekly, for one, has had many early references to medical and cultural effects, and Dr Joe Santamaria has expatiated frequently and systematically thereon.

Commonwealth parliamentary standing committees have been saying the same, but the Establishment and the local scribblers had combined to suppress these facts.

Marijuana intake is the prep school for moving into the hard or harder drugs, which is where the big money is. So the subject has been a no-go area for our Beautiful People and the financiers behind the whole industry.

As our police pointed out long ago, the hard expensive drugs run right through our showbiz and sporting populations, not to mention more and more of our clean-cut executives and stressed-out business achievers; so ... a protective cloak has been thrown over this whole privileged class. Polizei, keep away!

Nor has anything been said for some time about the effects of hash ingestion, over years, upon reasoning capacities, attention spans and general motivation, i.e., will-power.

I happen to connect this with the rising puerility levels and the ever-increasing detachment from reality and the lives of others, of the New Class who started from the '60s. Nowadays, they toil not, neither do they spin; they read little and reflect less.

Clinging for dear life to their usurped authority, drivelling about the golden days of the Moratorium and combining, yet again, in the latest push to regain Lassiter's lost swill-bucket.

Yet these be the bemused custodians and agenda-setters of our education, our information and entertainment services, our arts and film, our legal, penal, and increasingly, our medical cultures. Methinks they made a hash of it. And their rich cousins leave us the syringes.

Kofi's whitewash

Kofi Annan has just announced a new plan to revamp the United Nations. I'm afraid it does not tackle any of the problems pointed out in News Weekly or elsewhere, and I predict that very few people will remember Annan's package for more than a few days.

But, by expanding the Security Council from 15 to 24 members, Annan would hope to weaken the powers of the Big Five - in reality, those of the US and Britain. The Council would be on the way to being ungovernable, by virtue of the unlikelihood of the members agreeing on important issues.

More power would flow back to Annan and his secretariat, from whence it has long departed, on account of their sustained unfitness to perform their proper duties.

Even if this is to be just a debate about change, Annan might hope that it deflects attention from ongoing scandals, such as the Iraq food-for-oil saga. He might further hope to ingratiate his UN people with the countries being promised Security Council membership. If only the nasty, power-hungry Americans and English wouldn't veto it!

And a new human rights commission should be set up, says Annan, and this proposal will give radical Western DJs many, many programs, reviling those who disagree. Somehow, I don't think that the Chinese or Putin's Russians will be terribly enthusiastic about a new human rights commission.

In fact, the whole operation looks like a whitewash, for the real problem, all along, is that the UN, including the Security Council, will not use the powers they already have. The reason? Member-nations are hopelessly divided, and will continue to be so long as Old Europe tries to cling to memories of its past glories and potencies.

In this respect, Jacques Chirac - the main influence driving this culture of nostalgic stubbornness - in reality has far more serious things to do than frown thoughtfully at conferences and huddle with Schroeder and Putin every other day.

Thus it looks, firstly, as though Frenchmen, in referendum mode, are likely to reject the new EU constitution, although this was a prize Gallic creation.

Secondly, France - along with other states, such as Germany and Greece - is urgently seeking to allow the EU caps on deficit-spending to be relaxed, so that they can borrow more in order to spend more.

The EU and other central banks are aghast, for they think that this will weaken the Euro and worsen rather than improve long-term financial conditions.

Thirdly, as Chinese textile and clothing goods flood France, Chirac realises that two million Frenchmen work in textiles and clothing. What can he say to persuade the Chinese to ease up? What concessions might they not demand? He is urgently consulting with other Europeans about this matter.

We in Australia should be monitoring this charade with close attention.

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