Whitlam's attempts to diminish states (letter)by John R. BarichNews Weekly
, August 19, 2006
I was fascinated by Joseph Poprzeczny's article, "Liberals turning to Whitlam-style centralism" (News Weekly
, July 22, 2006).
When I first joined the Prime Minister's Department in Canberra in 1963, I was told by a well-connected fellow officer from Tasmania that he had been told on good authority that, under the Coalition, the states would disappear in 20 years and, under Labor, 10 years.
Labor's Gough Whitlam was in office from 1972-75 and, during that time, he made at least three attempts to reduce the role of state governments.
First, he proposed that the area governed by the Brisbane City Council - which has about twice the population of Tasmania - be set up as the seventh state of Australia. Second, he offered to purchase Sydney's Westmead Hospital as the first step towards giving the Commonwealth ownership of all public hospitals in Australia. Third, he proposed that the Australian Capital Territory be enlarged, probably with the view of its rivalling Sydney in the longer term.
The demise of Australia's states has not happened because state premiers such as Queensland's Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Western Australia's Sir Charles Court not only objected to Canberra's interference but reinvigorated the states' role.
During this time, they were supported by the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) which stood for decentralism - that is, devolving political power to the smallest efficient unit of society.
However, although I am an unashamed decentralist, I can see the wisdom of some rearrangement of federal-state powers.
While states have total power over education, it is the Federal Government which predominantly funds non-government schools and universities. A similar situation applies to hospitals, ports and roads.
The recent COAG meeting has shown what co-operative federalism can potentially achieve. However, more must be done and a key element is the achieving of fiscal independence for the states.
Providing all the revenue from the goods-and-services tax (GST) revenue to the states has been a good first step, but the states must not be allowed to squander these funds.John R. Barich,
WA State President,
National Civic Council,
West Perth, WA