By Mark Drummond
There is wide acknowledgement that the economic growth Australia has achieved in recent years through China’s huge demand for our commodity exports has masked significant structural deficiencies in the Australian economy. The ongoing drought and recent car manufacturing plant closures in Victoria and South Australia further highlight the relentless realities of Australia’s harsh natural environment and vast distance from world markets, the precarious security of Australia’s primary and manufacturing industries and economy overall, and Australia’s need for especially competent and supportive government structures and regulatory systems. But as many have observed since Federation in 1901, with increasing urgency in recent times, Australia’s current system of government hosts crippling levels of wastefully duplicated bureaucracy and regulation, myriad opportunities for buck-passing, and numerous other grave dysfunctionalities, which severely impede Australia’s economic, environmental, social and justice outcomes, such that a growing diversity of stakeholders are now firmly calling for comprehensive reforms across nearly all areas of government – especially in critical areas such as indigenous affairs, water management, health care, and business taxation and regulation.
The Australia United Plan (AUP) provides a five stage pathway to a unitary system of government, via referendum by the year 2020, that can substantially overcome the unsustainable costs and crippling dysfunctionalities of Australia’s current system of government.
The centrepieces of the AUP are: firstly, the amalgamation of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to form a strengthened national government where the buck will always stop; secondly, a significant strengthening of local councils – both constitutionally and financially – to provide local communities levels of empowerment and autonomy comparable to that of their counterparts in other OECD countries for the first time in their history (noting that local governments in Australia currently account for just 7% of total government spending, compared to about 18% in Canada and 25% in both the US and UK) and robustly dispel concerns that an Australia without State and Territory governments will be too Canberra-centric; thirdly, an all carrot no stick transition plan that transfers all State and Territory government employees, lands and other assets to the strengthened national and local governments; and fourthly, financial benefits amounting to approximately $20 billion per annum in the public sector, $40 billion per annum in the private sector, and at least $50 billion per annum (or about five per cent of GDP) across the economy as a whole (in 2009 dollars), achieved by rationalising Commonwealth, State and Territory parliaments, bureaucracy, regulation, taxation and business compliance burdens.
By freeing up billions of dollars each year along with the creative and productive skills of the many thousands of Australians currently tied up in duplicated bureaucracy, the AUP can provide the human and financial resources clout to deliver huge boosts for individuals, families, communities and businesses in rural and urban Australia alike, through reduced taxation and significantly enhanced infrastructure and services, and properly tackle huge challenges such as water, renewable energy, skills shortages, education and training, health and aged care, bushfires and emergency services, and national security.
Above and beyond economic benefits, the AUP also has unique potential to overcome the shameful gerrymander that Australia’s dysfunctional federal system has relentlessly reinforced to the compounding detriment of indigenous Australians for more than a century, and vastly improve the overall quality of Australian democracy. Australia’s indigenous population of approximately half a million is about the same as that of Tasmania, but whereas our Constitution provides Tasmania with its own State government, the immense financial benefits of Statehood, 12 Senate seats, and more than its fair share of members of the Federal House of Representatives, all as a “special deal” because of its prior status as a British penal colony, it has proven impossible for indigenous Australians to gain fair democratic empowerment and representation in political entities with populations and land areas as large as our gigantic mainland States and Australia as a whole. The vast majority of Australians living outside the capital cities similarly suffer from State governments disproportionately fixated on their respective capital cities, and a conspicuous lack of Senators with first-priority concern for their localities. The “participation costs” and “entry barriers” standing in the way of fair representation are generally much smaller, however, for local governments, the vast majority of which serve populations less than 50,000.
By strengthening local councils in which indigenous and rural Australians could realistically achieve proportionate representation, and doing away with capital-centric State and Territory governments and Senate electorates which so dreadfully disempower indigenous and rural Australians, the AUP can for the first time in Australian history enable indigenous and rural Australians to achieve fair and substantial democratic empowerment and autonomy – without any hint of favouritism – along with the associated social and economic security, peace of mind, and improved health outcomes, such that indigenous and rural welfare interventions, and politically divisive debates over the legitimacy of such actions, can hopefully be largely consigned to history.
Finally, we can see from Ireland that old political boundaries can certainly remain in use for sporting competitions long after the demise of the associated political structures, so the AUP poses no threat at all to one of the world’s great sporting competitions in State of Origin rugby league.