Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Australia getting ready to re-devolve power?

He might not be able to spell "diversity" (check out that trendy whiteboard behind him), but Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime-Minister, certainly doesn’t believe in resting on his laurels by the sound of it.

In relation to our constitutional debate here, the document produced by the "ideas summit" Mr Rudd assembled in Canberra is quite relevant. It outlined the Australia the participants wanted to see evolving by the year 2020 and rather unoriginally, it threw forward the old chestnuts of abolishing the monarchial link and the setting up of a republic.

But there were also serious criticisms of the federal system of government:
David Morgan, a former boss of Westpac, one of Australia's biggest banks, says the original model is “poorly suited to the needs of the 21st century”. The most urgent task, he says, is the creation of a national economy unhampered by conflicting state-government regulations. George Williams, a constitutional lawyer, blames the “dysfunctional” constitution for some A$9 billion ($8.5 billion) a year lost in buck-passing, red tape and duplication. Heather Ridout, of the Australian Industry Group, a business lobby, argues the federal structure is the most glaring cause of policy failures in health and education.

OK, the federal states have rather more power independent of the centre than the devolved assemblies in the United Kingdom, but since the logical stepping stone to independence would be a similar system to that existing in Australia, those highlighted failures and weaknesses are most interesting.

And isn't it rather ironic that whilst current nationalist policy in Scotland and Wales appears to be keep the Queen and at the same time loosening the economic ties with the centre, Down-Under the trend appears to be moving in exactly the opposite direction?


The Aberdonian said...

One of the biggest problems in Australia is the finance issue. Up until 1942 the states had pretty much the same taxation powers as the provinces of Canada and the American states. However the federal government retained control of sales and excise taxes.

In 1942 due to the war, the Federal government passed measures which brought about the following:-

1 - An increase in Federal corporation and income taxes so high that it would be punitive for the states to level additional state equivalents

2 - The creation of a central board to distribute such funds to be distributed to the states on the basis of need.

3- A law disqualifying any state from getting money from the board if chose to continue to levy state corporate and income taxes.

This outraged some states which felt that they were being held to ransom and argued that it was unconstitutional.

The Australian High Court argued it was legal on the grounds that whilst federal taxation had to be fair and uniform throughout the Commonwealth, the federal government did not have to be fair in the way it distributed the money.

This until the early 1990's made the state governments more or less wholly dependent on the Federal government playing lady bountiful and complaints on how it was spent.

The States could levy some taxes such as stamp duty but otherwise had to keep out the begging bowl. There was a complaint that States, particularly in administrating federal laws for example, were having to provide services with no guaranteed stream of income.

This has been ironed out slightly in the 1990's when it was agreed that the new centrally-set GST would accrue to the state where the sale happened.

Finance is still a grumble however.

There is of course some duplication. For example there is federal and state banking law and problems in co-operating on trans-border issues between states. I read that an example is the lack of inter-state co-operation in desalination of the Murray River.

Sometimes there is duplication in systems, sometimes there is not.

The UK and Australia are quite similar in systems vis a vis court enforcement. In Australia most criminal law is made by the states but certain crimes such a narcotics smuggling and treason are in the jurisdiction of the Federal government. However trial and punishment of these crimes are purely carried out in the state system of courts and corrections.

In the UK, the Scottish authorities makes much of the criminal law such as murder and rape. However the UK controls such things as narcotics and road traffic offences. However the two systems are enforced in the Scottish courts and penal system.

This contrasts to the United States where state and federal law violations are tried and punished with separate court and prison systems. People caught from everything from treason to setting fire to a post box (posts is a federal thing) will be tried and punished by the Department of Justice. Those who kill or steal outside federal jurisdiction within a state will be tried and punished by the state system.


An interesting hybrid is Canada. In Canada by and far most criminal law is made by the Federal Parliament. Lets take a murderer in Vancouver.

He is arrested by the Mounties who provide policing under contract for British Columbia. BC could have its own police force but like most provinces contracts in the Federal Police to do the job (Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland choose to have their own police).

The criminal is taken before a court - created and paid for by the provincial authorities - namely in this instance the Provincial Court of BC.

He is charged under with murder under the Canadian Criminal Code. He is committed to custody at Vancouver Prison which is provincial government prison run by the BC Department of Corrections.

He is tried by a judge paid for by the BC government in the provincial Supreme Court of BC and prosecuted by provincial civil servant "the Crown Attorney".

He is found guilty and jailed under the Federal Criminal code to life. He is returned to the provincial prison for assesment. As he is serving over three years he is then after a few weeks transferred to the Federal Prison service "Corrections Canada" to serve his sentence in a federal prison anywhere in Canada.

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Anonymous said...

Under the Australian Constitution each state is a sovereign state and it was clearly designed to disperse power among the states (and under the states to local government) and keep that power decentalized; and in a large, sparsely populated country three-tier government made good sense. However, since the end of the Second World War and especially since the early 1970s' under the Whitlam government, states' rights have been continually eroded and the Constitution increasingly ignored with more and more power surrendered by the states and centralized in Canberra, this is especially true of taxation. (Who could ever forget the catch cry of "New Federalism" in the 1970s?) Rudd wants to damage the Federation even further under the guise of "modernizing" it by "standardizing/harmonizing" legislation on interstate finance and financial control. But it will merely be yet another Labor-Party exercise in robbing the states of their rightful constitutional power and centralizing that power in the Commonwealth government. What else can one expect from a man who's about as sincere as a harlot's kiss and with as much political, intellectual, and moral depth as the thickness of a cigarette paper. It is a good thing Sam Griffith is not around to see what the assorted buffooms have done to his constitution over the last 35 years. Poor Sam.