PQ Wolves Want A Vote On Eating Anglo Sheep For Dinner

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And so all things come to pass.

Thankfully, the most repugnant thing in Canada today has come to pass, at least for the time being, as the Quebec PQ Government, headed by socialist xenophobe Pauline Marois, heads to the polls on 7 April.

Marois has declared her Government is fighting against corruption left behind by the Liberals, which is ironic given the Charbonneau Commission will cease hearings for the duration of the election.

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Centenary of the 1913 Federal Election

A couple of weeks ago on 31 May 2013 was the centenary of the 1913 federal election, which went unnoticed.  It was one of the most critical elections in Australian history and its story needs to be retold, writes John Ruddick 

Between 1901 and 1910 Australia had eight Prime Ministerships with no party having a majority in either the House or the Senate.  The backdrop to this period of political flux was the seemingly inexorable rise of Labor. 

In 1901 Labor had just 14 seats in the House (out of 75) making it the smallest of the three parliamentary parties.  In 1903 the Labor tally almost doubled to 23 and then strengthened in 1906 with 26 seats.  The election of 1910 saw Labor not only win a clear majority in the House (42) but almost two thirds of the Senate.  It was a historic victory – Labor was the first openly socialistic party to win a national election in the world.

At the following election in 1913 Labor lost office to the Commonwealth Liberal Party by a single seat.  Australia was in its formative years and the election of 1913 is arguable one of our most consequential – it embedded free enterprise but only just. 

Chris Watson served as the first Labor leader from 1901 to 1907.  During Waton’s leadership Labor held the balance of power between the two pro-business parties – the Protectionists and the Free Traders.  Watson was a Labor moderate who aimed to advance the Labor cause through trading the two other parties off against the other. 

Watson was PM for an inconsequential four months in 1904 (as a result of a parliamentary realignment, not an election) but when the two other parties patched things up he resigned.  Watson remained as Labor leader but his compromises were increasingly resented by the Labor caucus.

In 1907 Labor elected Andrew Fisher as leader.  Like many of early British Labour leaders Fisher was a devout Christian and a teetotaller and unlike today’s ‘Labor’ leaders had spent two decades actually labouring at the bottom of mines. 

Fisher’s colleagues, political opponents, the press and the public would soon admire Fisher as a man of integrity and conviction.  A contemporary noted Fisher: 

has a kind of Olympian dignity, an unruffled and quite impenetrable calm. 

Fisher was an avowed radical socialist who did not think of hiding it.  When campaigning for the leadership he told Caucus: 

it would be cowardly for the man who believes that nationalisation is a proper principle not to express his views in the House.  We have too long shrunk from maintaining propositions which we clearly believe in.

Fisher had absolute confidence that by boldly declaring socialism a majority of the public would soon agree.  He told the Labor Party conference in 1908: 

In the church, the Parliament, in the streets and newspapers all over the civilized world there are no more sneers and scorn for socialism.  Everyone has this one great question to consider: we are all socialists now and indeed the only qualification you hear from anybody is that he is ‘not an extreme socialist.

In late 1908 Labor under Fisher withdrew its support of Protectionist PM Alfred Deakin.  Such were the hostilities between the Protectionists and the Free Traders that Deakin gave his votes in parliament to support Fisher as PM. 

In this first of his three non-consecutive terms as PM, Fisher knew passing socialist legislation was impossible without a majority … so from 1908 to 1909 Fisher principally used the office of PM, not to legislate, but to travel the nation, give speeches and campaign for socialism at the upcoming 1910 election. 

He spoke of: 

soon having a sufficient number in Parliament to express our views in legislation,” and of “Australia being able to lead the world with Socialistic legislation in such a way that it would be helpful to those great countries of the world with congested populations.

Talk like this soon made the two pro-business parties put aside their differences.  The free-traders had lost the debate over tariffs and with socialism a far greater threat the two merged into the Commonwealth Liberal Party. 

It was now obvious Fisher would be removed as PM as soon as Parliament resumed so Fisher mischievously delayed recalling Parliament for as long as he could.  He extended his tour of the nation and his enthusiastic crowds grew. 

After a six month recess Parliament finally returned and Fisher was voted down as PM immediately.  Fisher asked the Governor General for an election but was denied and Deakin returned as PM.  Deakin however was by now tired and probably suffering the onset of dementia while Labor under Fisher had the momentum.

Prior to the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party the Protectionists had cut into the working class vote.  The new political environment of two parties (not three) played into Fisher’s hand.  The electorate had a clear choice – the workers versus the capitalists – and Labor’s primary vote leapt from 36.6% 1906 to 49.9% in 1910 making it easily Labor’s biggest ever swing. 

Fisher was Australia’s first powerful PM and he set about using that power.  An unprecedented 113 pieces of legislation passed easily – almost more than all previous governments combined.  Welfare programs and payments boomed. 

Government money was thrown at the arts and sport.  Taxes were hiked as were the number of public servants … but the power Fisher most wanted was to nationalise monopolies and start government owned businesses to compete with the private sector. 

Fisher feared the High Court would declare such laws unconstitutional … so within a year of winning office Fisher put forth two amendments to the Constitution via referendum.  They sought to take the power over commerce and industrial relations away from the states and give it to the federal government.

The referenda lost 61-39%.  Most politicians would back away from such a rebuff but Fisher had often said he would rather return to labouring in the mines than back down on principle.  Fisher immediately announced he would put the questions again to the electorate … and he raised the stakes.  He added six more socialist referenda and timed the vote to be on the same day as the next federal election in 1913.  Fisher reasoned his personal popularity (which was high) would this time get the referenda passed.

In 1913 Fisher’s opponent was the long term anti-socialist campaigner Joseph Cook.  During the campaign Cook focussed not on attacking Fisher but his eight referenda declaring “Labor wants to get in a position of socialistic supremacy over the whole Commonwealth”.

A hundred years ago Cook defeated Fisher by one seat despite Fisher narrowly winning the popular vote.  All eight referenda were defeated just as narrowly.

Fisher did return as PM for a year at the outset of World War One but the war consumed his agenda and he resigned in mid-1915.  He then lived out his days in London depressed at failing to bring about his socialist utopia in the Antipodes. 

One hundred years ago living standards in Argentina were higher than they were in Australia but today the OECD says Australia is the happiest nation on Earth.  Had Fisher’s Labor Party won one more seat in 1913 that may not have been the case.

John Ruddick is a Sydney based mortgage broker

On a Queensland House of Review


Rsz_1197515_108482069234461_1417439_n (1)March 24, 2012 was a historic day in Queensland's history, writes Michael Smyth

Not only due to the utter devastation for the ALP, but also due to its ushering in of "conservative" rule in this state; a sign that the Right in Queensland has shaken off the spectre of Joh.

Before the apologists of Joh get outraged by such a statement, I want to clarify what I mean.

Joh did some good things for Queensland, but his government was ultimately undone by the shortcomings of some of its members.

Whether you love or hate the memory of Joh is irrelevant. The reason that I cite this is that Joh would not have been able to do so much had there been an upper house.

In 1922, the ALP won a landslide victory and decided to abolish the Legislative Council, a move that was questionable from a constitutional point of view.

This led to the ALP holding government for decades, until the 1950s, when the Coalition parties finally won back the Legislative Assembly. This ultimately led to the Joh era, and the expansion of Queensland, but the issue here is the means by which it was expanded.

Due to the fact there is no Upper House, Joh was able to implement his reforms without any opposition from the parliament.

This sounds good in theory, except when you fast forward to the Beattie and Bligh years (1998-2012), where bad laws were made and such an appalling lack of transparency became so apparent that even Tony Fitzgerald complained about it.

Tony Fitzgerald, for those that don't remember is the guy who ran the Fitzgerald inquiry that exposed corruption in Joh's ministry.

So when the proverbial horses mouth comes out and says something along the lines of Labor makes Joh look vaguely translucent, you know you've got a problem.

Freedom of Information requests were frequently ignored by the Beattie government.

So how do you fix this problem? How do you prevent abuses of power – by either side – in the face of only having a unicameral parliament?

You can't really prevent it, once you've cleared the Legislative Assembly, it goes to Government House for Royal Assent, and under our conventions, it is signed into law.

To prevent Joh happening again, and to prevent Beattie from happening again, an Upper House should be restored as a check and balance of our Westminster system.

It is good for constitutional democracy to have the powerful kept in check by a proportional representation of the people.

QUESTION: Won't this mean that reforms don't get pushed through as quickly if they are obstructed by a recalcitrant Upper House?

ANSWER: Yes, but the payoff is that bad policy gets filtered out, or turned into good policy, by consultation with the other parties. It is not healthy to have one party controlling the political and policy agendas.

QUESTION: Why should we allow the Greens (or any other minor party) representation in the parliament if they don't have enough votes to gain a seat in the Assembly?

ANSWER: Because the way our system works in Australia, as a clone of the old Westminster system, is that the state (or country) is broken up into electorates with a roughly equal number of voters, and then to protect the rights of all citizens there is proportional representation for each State (at federal level), and each group of people who feel a certain way at State level.

QUESTION: Won't this cost us more money?

ANSWER: Everything costs money these days, but realistically speaking, we have not increased the number of State electorates for more than two decades. Surely, when we have the money again, we could easily facilitate a restoration of the Upper House, so that no group of voters can make the claim that the government does not represent them.

However, if money is a concern, and at this time it is, it would be feasible to reduce the number of MPs – even if only for a short time – in order to facilitate the restoration of accountability.

QUESTION: What about the Parliamentary Committee system that has been set up?

ANSWER: The Parliamentary Committee system that was set up merely serves to rubber stamp the government’s decisions. There is also the remuneration aspect of each Parliamentary Committee, and each MP sitting on each Committee. Finally, in regards to committees, it detracts from the representative work that each MP does for their constituents.

The 14 years of Labor government serve as a cautionary tale, to those of us who love liberty.

It is our civic duty as citizens, to ask for accountability from our politicians, instead of waiting every three years to undo any policy that could be put through in the night.

There are people with similar complaints about the incumbent LNP government. We need accountability from our politicians, and accountability that does not come just once every three years.

Michael Smyth is the Queensland Branch Treasurer of the Australian Monarchist League

VOTE ‘NO’ TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFERENDUM GROUP FORMED MEDIA RELEASE

“Australians opposed to the local government referendum have officially formed and welcome the support of any Australian opposed to Canberra’s power grab”, said spokesperson Peter Reith.

Mr Reith’s comments follow the introduction of the Referendum Alteration (Local Government) Bill into the House of Representatives last week. Former Councillor, Julian Leeser, will be Convenor of the Vote ‘No’ campaign, with the support of Mr Reith, Dr Gary Johns, Nick Minchin and Tim Wilson.

“We welcome any Australian who wants to stand up to Canberra’s power grab”, Mr Reith said.

“Anyone opposed to this local government referendum can register their interest at:

www.nopowergrab.com.au

“We’re building a broad-based coalition of people, regardless of their political background, to defeat this Canberra power grab. We want organising committee members, activists, donors, anyone prepared to play a part – big or small – to defeat this Canberra power grab”.

“If you want local communities to provide services based on local need, not Canberra priorities, you will want to sign up”.

“The Constitution isn’t just any old piece of paper, it’s the document that limits the power of Canberra politicians and bureaucrats and outlines the very structure of our democracy”.

“Canberra politicians and bureaucrats are trying to change the Constitution that limits their power using every trick in the book at their disposal”.

“The Vote ‘No’ group is standing up against Canberra’s power grab”.

“$21.6 million of public money is being used to campaign for this referendum. The Australian Local Government Association is amassing a $10 million ratepayer-funded campaign war chest. The Federal government has appropriated $11.6 million for a campaign that they have admitted will be a defacto ‘yes’ campaign”. Under questioning, Senator Jacinta Collins stated in the Senate:

“Certainly we will be looking at a broad education campaign, but a component of that campaign will be a position where the government seeks to advocate that there are strong benefits in accepting what is proposed in this case”. – Senator Jacinta Collins, 15/05/2013

“Defeating this referendum will require every Australian standing up for their community and services being delivered on local need, not Canberra priorities”, Mr Reith said.

Media contact Peter Reith: 0408 803 891, Dr Gary Johns: 0438 290 852, Tim Wilson: 0417 356 165, Nick Minchin: 0427 462 469, Julian Leeser: 0419 630 955

NO MORE POWER TO CANBERRA


BTRWe need to oppose Council Recognition, writes Brant Rippon

The Gillard Labor Government has announced a referendum on the recognition of Local Governments within the Constitution of Australia to be held in conjunction with the election on September 14.

As Michelle Grattan highlighted on Friday, there are those on both sides of politics that do not want to see the referendum held – at least, not on September 14. ALP power brokers think it is an ‘extra burden in an election where Labor has almost nothing going for it’.

Back on the ‘right’ side of politics, Tony Abbott has begrudgingly inherited backing for the change, which has been Coalition policy for some time. Many Coalition members and supporters have highlighted the fact that a referendum on September 14 will muddy the proverbial waters. For September 14, Coalition supporters should want the second Saturday in September to be solely a vote on Government. A vote to get the nation back on track. A vote of no confidence in this inept Labor Government that has broken so many promises and left Australians with a mountain of debt and increased costs of living. The Howard era certainly was the halcyon days.

Strategically, the Coalition will want the electorate focused on the negatives and broken promises of the Rudd/Gillard Governments, and not be distracted with a referendum. As Coalition campaign advisors have said, the Coalition should and will be 'campaigning at the election to change the government, not the constitution'.

To borrow a Boswellian phrase, the Australian Monarchist League will be 'manning the barricades' for the NO campaign. You might at first think, 'why would an organisation whose main ethos is to protect the Crown be involved in a referendum on council recognition?'

The League's mission statement is 'Australians protecting the Australian flag, the Australian Crown, and the Australian Constitution.' The primary purpose of the Australian Monarchist League is to educate and inform the Australian public on Australia's history and particularly on the Australian Constitution.

Established in Australia in 1943 as a pressure group for upholding the educational and cultural aspects of our constitutional monarchy, AML has today morphed into a significant and effective 'not-for-profit' voluntary organisation which lobbies State and Federal governments to reverse decades of 'republicanism by stealth'. We consider the appropriate recognition of our Sovereign, Royal Family and traditional institutions, the upholding of the principles of the Westminster System and the maintenance of the concept of competitive federalism on which the Commonwealth was founded, as essential aspects of our system.

The League will be opposing the referendum on two fronts:

(1) Lack of time: According to reports, the Australian Electoral Commission has indicated that it requires a minimum of 27 weeks to properly prepare the arguments for YES and NO cases. There are fewer than 15 weeks remaining to the election and the Constitution Alteration (Local Government) 2013 Bill, although drafted, has not even been introduced into the parliament. Our main hope is that the Coalition will conduct a well-funded NO case and this is what we are lobbying for. However, whatever happens, the League will be there doing its best to protect the integrity of our Australian Constitution.

We are also in touch with other organisations to co-ordinate our activities. With the shortage of time, every hand to the wheel counts.

(2) Centralisation of Power: There is clearly a divide over the referendum and whether to support it within the Coalition.   WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith said last week that recognition would "distort the federal structure, give rise to unforeseen and unintended consequences and will lead to an eventual eclipse of the states and their eventual irrelevance as a balance against the centralist power of the Commonwealth".

The Australian Monarchist League echoes Senator Smith's views. A YES vote could result in undermining the very existence of the States. It has long been Labor Party policy to erode the viability of the states by slowly centralising power to Canberra via years of scope creep, much like the 'republicanism by stealth' campaign that has existed over recent decades. It should be noted however that the Howard government was no better in regards to the 'Canberraisation' process.

The League has proceeded to lobby members of the Federal and State parliaments very successfully with a number of politicians coming out to pressure the Federal Coalition party to oppose the referendum. A leading member of the Coalition front-bench has written to the League to say: "May I take the opportunity of personally encouraging you in this campaign."

A member of the Newman Government wrote to AML saying, "I certainly note that there is divided opinion in the community on this issue. With respect, there are much more important issues at stake for the nation in this election. I cannot speak on behalf of the Coalition, however I know that I, and many others do share your view." Queensland Local Government Minister David Crisafulli said the state is not sure whether the wording would allow a federal government to go beyond simply funding. "If it comes with the ability to control, I'm scared".

At this stage, both the Western Australian and Victorian Liberal Councils have voted to incorporate a NO vote in their HTV cards on 14 September.

The League is in the process of setting up a referendum website nomorepowertocanberra.info which should be operative in coming days. We call on all conservatives to lobby their local Coalition member, Senator or candidate to not support the passage of the Constitution Alteration (Local Government) 2013 Bill through parliament.

Not only has there been a serious lack of public consultation from the Commonwealth Government over recognition of councils, but if there is one thing that this inept Labor Government has proven over the past six years is that the last thing Australians need is more power gifted to Canberra.

Brant Rippon is the State Chairman of the Australian Monarchist League’s Queensland Branch

Scouts and Other Volunteers Hit by OHS Laws

Ken_phillips Ken Phillips discusses the damaging affect of new national OHS laws on volunteers:

In a dramatic demonstration of the bad design of the new national OHS laws, the NSW Scout Association has issued a memo to all its volunteer leaders and committee members. The memo is here.
 
In part, it says:
 
Section Leaders are required to perform the following duties

Promptly rectify or notify safety issues around the Scout Hall
Conduct risk assessments on proposed games and activities and ensure that the can be done with a reasonable expectation of safe participation.
Provide clear and concise instructions to Youth Members on safety issues.
Enforce safety requirements and the use of personal protection equipment where required.
Follow the policies and procedures of the Association
If you do not follow directives, policies and procedures, you may be fined.
 In effect, volunteers are now expected to have the same OHS expertise and resources as a senior manager in BHP. This has never been required before. Volunteers now face huge risks.
 
What the Scout memo doesn’t say is that prosecutions are conducted under criminal law, that volunteers would be denied the right to silence and could be held responsible even if they didn’t have control of the situation.
 
Here’s our most recent update on what’s happening with the laws.

The Gillard government is insisting that these laws go fully national.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Ken Phillips is the Executive Director of the Independent Contractors Association.

Wither The Union

Crb Craig Buchanan looks at the UK, the EU and Federalism:

The casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that Britain has been coming apart at the seams of late.  First there were the parliamentary scandals – resignations by the London bus load, and Members of Parliament arrested, while luckier colleagues were forced to pay back thousands in misappropriated (taxpayer) funds.  Then Scotland threatened to vote with its feet, electing the first majority government at Holyrood committed to eventual independence and the end of the Union.  And now the good people of not only London, but also Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bristol, are cleaning up after riots, looting, and a side serving of recreational arson.  As England mops up (and the Scots, Welsh, and Irish gloat quietly to themselves) it is tempting to paraphrase that most English of musical acts, Kit and the Widow, in punning “’Whither the Union?’ they’re asking, to which the answer’s ‘yes’.”

Meanwhile, just across the Channel, Merkel and Sarkozy are busy proposing a single European government with France and Germany at its heart, ala Charlemaigne, while Britain, once the defender of European independence, looks on through the smoke.

Of one thing there can be no doubt, however.  David Cameron and his Conservative-Liberal coalition government seem committed to preserving their almost mythic Union at any cost.  Unionist to the core (the full title of Cameron’s party is, after all, the Conservative and Unionist Party, even if the Union in question harks back to the Irish Union of 1801, long since defunct, and beloved of almost no one), they have pledged to fight to preserve what they have in the face of all comers.  But are they in danger of allowing those who wish to see the break-up of the United Kingdom the upper hand?  Exactly what sort of Union should the Unionists be looking to save, or perhaps to salvage?

It may now be time for the right-of-centre, Unionist parties in the UK to take the lead, and declare exactly which parts of the Union are worth saving, and which parts they might be willing to cede to make that happen.  If Scotland’s Nationalist First Minister, Alex Salmond, can talk of Independence Lite (a plan whereby Scotland would gain 95% of the objectives for which the SNP has stood for almost a hundred years, while at one and the same time managing to avoid two or three of the most obvious pitfalls of complete sovereign status), then might it not be time for Cameron to step up to the crease and propose a Union Lite alternative?

And what better model for such an alternative than the federal structures already in place here in Australia?

Since 9/11 it has been increasingly difficult for nationalists in Scotland (the Welsh, to give them their due, have never seriously tried) to propose independent armed forces, to the point at which the SNP has fallen back for some years now on a ‘defence pact’ model, wherein Scotland and England would continue to share bases, troops, and command structures towards a common defence.  Meanwhile, in spite of strong republican leanings amongst some of its members, the SNP continues to support the retention of the Queen as Scotland’s head of state post independence.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, and (to a lesser extent) Wales already have their own devolved parliaments, their own laws, and their own levels of fiscal autonomy.  If Cameron and his Unionists want to get a lead on their detractors, they have to take the bold step, recognise that lethargy and inaction will doom the very Union they claim to love, and voluntarily cede control of those areas which are peripheral, in the name of saving that which is central and good. 

In other words, they need to come out in favour of a federal state.  Give the constituent nations fiscal autonomy.  Let them raise and spend their own taxes on what they like, and pay into a central pot to maintain defence and foreign policy commitments.  Let them run their own education systems (they already do anyway).  Let them maintain their own hospitals (ditto) and roads (ditto).  And, in the name of sanity, let them establish an equivalent body in England – a fully fledged English Parliament – to look after all those concerns south of the border, and to give the downtrodden Englishman a voice and a forum, taking the debate off the streets, and putting it back where it belongs.

And Westminster?  Let it sit three days a week, rather the way Canberra does, and let it focus on defence, border protection, and foreign policy.  In the process, it will cost the British taxpayer less, as well as allowing more time for it to do what it arguably should have been doing all along – promoting Britain, not holding it back; giving people a common voice, rather than stifling individual identities.

Union Lite, anyone?  Oh, and do pass the Pimms …

 

[Craig Buchanan is President of the Nedlands Branch of the WA Liberal Party.  A British ex-pat who migrated to Australia in 2003, he stood as an approved candidate for the Scottish National Party in the early 1990s, sitting slightly to the right of that party’s centralist norm]

 

The Concept of Blame and our Democracy

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Richard Whiteoak discusses the "blame game":

When Kevin Rudd announced his intention to “end the blame game” between the States and Federal Governments, it was only the start of an erosion of ministerial accountability. Now, under the stewardship of Gillard, Greens and the independents, this has now metamorphosed into an outright attack on our adversarial system, which has the very real potential to damage our democracy.

This “blame game” as Rudd had so characteristically sloganized it, occurs when the State & Federal Governments claim that a political issue falls outside the auspices of their constitutional responsibility, and in doing so, seeks to shift the responsibility onto the other. This ”blame game” is only possible due to a general public’s poor understanding of our Constitution, leading to confusion between the responsibilities of State & Federal governments. Whilst this deficit in the public’s comprehension could be addressed through our education system, it presented the Rudd Government with a political opportunity in committing “to end” such confusion, via a non-specific, vague spin slogan of ‘working together’. However what was overlooked during this act of political opportunism, was the fact that inherent with the concept of “blame”, is“accountability”, and obviating such accountability, leads to the inevitable avoidance of responsibility by any and all parties. Much more concerning however, is that the Gillard Labor party, desperate and backed into a corner, has taken the success of the former leader’s slogan one step forward and has unleashed a campaign together with the Greens, independents and some of the more myopic commentators, criticising the Federal opposition for opposing, and the media for criticising.

On the face of it, such a campaign against adversary seems ironic and somewhat whimsical; however the reality is that if such a tactic gains any traction, it could have serious consequences for our democracy.

The concept of Government accountability is only possible because of the adversarial nature of our system, where an intense scrutiny of policy by a strong opposition plays a fundamental part of the process. In the case of a weak and ineffective opposition, the failsafe has been a ferocious media, only too willing to also leap upon inconsistencies and impacts of poor, inconsistent decisions and bad policy. The key benefit of the current process is to generate intense public pressure upon any attempt to implement bad policy, and thus produce a better outcome for all. However despite this, the Labor Party, Greens & independents are attempting to convey the notion that the“opposition opposing”, is somehow irresponsible, and even more irresponsibly, labelling a critical press as “hate media”,whilst opportunistically attempting to quell the most ferocious press under the guise of a media inquiry.

Let us be very careful at this junction, for the consequences could be dire. An opposition’s job by its’ very definition is to oppose, and anything less than this would be a failure of their responsibility. Additionally, when a Government seeks to control a free press, warning bells should ring out as democracy by nature is about public scrutiny. The key message here is that just because so much of the Labor party’s policy and implementation hasn’t held up to scrutiny, should not to be rewarded at their instigation, by punishing those who have competently played their role. Instead, what the current Labor Government should concentrate on is something that they have consistently failed to achieve, and that is developing well considered good policy and implementing such policy and other government responsibilities competently and effectively.

Richard Whiteoak is self-employed, with a postgraduate education in applied finance. He is a fan of animals, music, and the arts, and a strong believer in individual freedoms, which, considering the assault they are taking these days, is probably why he is also described as being "a bit on the grumpy side".

Barnett thinks Chinese understand business and WA better than the Kanberra Komrades Kommunity (KKK) aka ALP

WA Premier Colin Barnett says relations between Western Australia and the Gillard government are at a low point, and the Premier has begun forging closer links with Beijing rather than Canberra as economic power shifts to the resource-rich state.

Mr Barnett told the Perth forum, attended by 350 business leaders, that Western Australia's closer ties with China were occurring because 60 per cent of Australia's exports to the Asian superpower were from his state. China invested more in Australia than in any other country. Of that investment, about 80 per cent went into Western Australia.

Mr Barnett said Western Australia accounted for 44 per cent of Australia's exports, equal to the sum of exports from NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Is that the sound of the secession clock I hear ticking?

Andy Semple

Speak without fear and Question with Boldness

State politics, regional governance and Western Australia

JS discusses the importance of strong state governments to continued economic prosperity.

Over the New Year period, sandgropers were treated to the farcical spectacle of the Western Australian Labor Party engaging in a flyweight tussle over the state opposition leadership.  On one side, there was current leader and former state treasurer, Eric Ripper pitted against shadow treasurer, Ben Wyatt, the 'man of the future'. 

Wyatt announced his challenge but within 48 hours, he'd withdrawn, not even getting his pitch into the party room.  It's hard to describe the battle as fierce.  There was no philosophical division between the two competing Labor tribes.  Ripper and Wyatt seem equally qualified.  Instead, the attempted decapitation emerged from perceptions among the Labor caucus as to which candidate possessed better presentation skills.  

But did this attempted and rather pathetic challenge actually matter?  Yes, unfortunately.

Broadly, what it showed is the policy and political vacuum that emerged under the State Labor Governments over the past ten years.  This vacuum has meant that State Labor lacks the policy resources to respond to economic and social change at the regional level.  This failure is nowhere more evident than in Western Australia, where State Labor is facing a historic test arising from fundamental economic and social changes taking place. 

The State Labor Governments of the 2000s

Since the Whitlam era, there has been a process of centralisation, which accelerated during the Hawke/Keating/Howard years.  This has had a combination of causes including the:

  • aggressively centralist policy prescriptions adopted by the Federal Government buttressed by the High Court’s expansive interpretations of the Commonwealth Constitution, culminating with the Workchoice decision;
  • willingness of State Governments to avoid their constitutional responsibilities through voluntary 'co-operative federalism agreements';
  • unchallenged consensus amongst 'policy professionals' and the Canberra Press Gallery that national approaches are preferable; and
  • intellectual and managerial weaknesses at the heart of the State Labor Governments that confronted the Howard governments in the late-1990s and early 2000s. 

The adoption of the so-called 'Carr Model' of state governance from the 1990s lead to state politics becoming concerned with 'twenty four hour news cycles', 'band aid solutions' and 'damage control'.

The stunning decline of New South Wales since the Sydney Olympics illustrates how poor regional government can damage a regional economy even though the national economy is broadly strong.  International examples such as Shanghai, Alberta and Texas provide similar albeit positive lessons of strong regional governance.  Chris Christie, the new, Tea Party-endorsed, Governor of New Jersey has demonstrated how a reformist regional government can reinvigorate a declining regional polity 

As a result, state opposition leadership struggles have become ritualistic quarrels over personalities not policies because the stakes have been seen as low.  A leader is elected, a new messiah promising salvation, but generally delivering more chaos, more division and certainly, nothing new. 

The Western Australian Liberals were not immune to the syndrome during their time in opposition (although the syndrome was cured by turning back to the talented Barnett).  But what distinguished Western Australian Labor's New Year outburst is that it arose in the broader context of potentially historic decline in its fortunes west of the Nullarbor Plain.

Labor’s defeat

Between 2001 and 2008, Labor dominated Western Australian politics, following a similar pattern to the east coast.  Although Western Australia has always had longer periods of conservative government, Labor maintained a formidable base in Perth's eastern and southern suburbs and in the Goldfields.  Brian Burke and then, Geoff Gallop, in particular, built on this base, appearing unassailable.  This period ended in 2008 with Gallop's successor, Alan Carpenter, calling an early election followed by the Liberals appointing Colin Barnett as leader at their last opportunity.  The Liberals ran a smart election campaign, emphasising that Western Australians had little to show for the massive resources boom. 

Despite four years of opposition disarray, Labor emerged with a hung parliament.  Barnett negotiated an alliance with the Western Australian Nationals leading to his eventual appointment as Premier.  Over the past two years, he has evolved a statesmanlike persona, completely dominating the state scene. 

This result could indicate that state Labor's troubles were 'only on paper' (especially as the numbers in Parliament are so close).  I suggest that the better view is that Labor's abysmal performance should be seen in the context of a weak opposition performance for the majority of Labor's final term in government.  In this respect, the outcome can only be explained as indicating structural changes to the composition of the Western Australian electorate. 

The Federal angle

The signs of Labor's decline in Western Australia were already present at the Federal level.  Western Australia bucked the national trend in the 2007 Federal Election, being the only state where the Liberals gained seats.  Labor lost a key marginal seat, Cowan.  This seat, which the Liberal hierarchy had written off in 2004, had always been a classic marginal outer metropolitan seat, embracing semi-rural and newer suburbs.  It emerged from the 2007 election as a fairly safe Liberal seat.  Overall, Labor returned a mere four lower house members out of fifteen.  In 2010, Western Australian Labor lost a further seat to the Liberals and its candidate, Ken Wyatt

What has happened is that voters are not distinguishing between Federal Labor, which is seen as essentially hostile to the state's long term interests, and Western Australian Labor, which is seen as hopeless at best and complicit at worst. 

It is trite to observe now that the proposed mining tax and carbon trading scheme appear to have alienated Western Australian voters, perhaps fatally.  Earlier, Labor's 'rollback' of the Workchoices legislation aligned with a public perception that Labor is hostile to the west's interests as this legislation was seen as necessary and popular in a 'boom state' which continues to endure labour scarcity. 

The growing awareness that Western Australia is disproportionately carrying the burden of propping up the 'debtor' eastern states while Western Australia struggles with stretched infrastructure also assists the conservative side (The celebrated 'Cash Cow' advertisement from the 2010 Federal election played to this theme).  Labor's asylum seeker policies, its unionised leadership and the ancient mistrust of 't'othersiders', create a picture of a distant and over-mighty Federal Government which does not understand the west.  Labor's capture by the trade unions, public sector and electorate officer class further undermine its ability to credibly respond to changing economic conditions. 

Structural change

But there is a longer term story too of economic, political and social evolution which pre-dates the acts of the first term of the Rudd/Gillard government. 

When my family first moved to Western Australia in 1986, Perth was a city of around 800,000 people.  It was insular, there were few major corporations, China and India were just beginning their marketisation policies and it still took ten minutes to travel anywhere.  The workplace, especially the mining sector, was heavily unionised.  It was the city of Alan Bond and Brian Burke, propped up by transfer payments from New South Wales and Victoria.  It was derided as a 'backwater'. 

In the twenty five years that passed, Western Australia has become one of the major economic centres in East Asia and the Indian Ocean region, powered by the insatiable demand for its natural resources.  Perth is identified in the same league as Houston and Dubai as a major resources and infrastructure centre.  Nowadays, its skyline is dominated by Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and the other big mining houses, the four major banks, Wesfarmers and so on. 

Around the resources industry, a dynamic service centre has grown up.  Mining services companies, global law firms, shipbuilders, scientists, engineers and the largest number of publicly listed corporations in the country now call Perth home.  Outside the city, the southwest coast is second to the Gold Coast as the fastest growing region in Australia.  George Megalogenis and Simon Jackman have previously noted that Western Australia's housing prices have risen higher than the rest of the country.  Population growth is the highest in the country (2.2%) and the highest growth amongst the working age population.  Western Australia has the highest percentage of residents born overseas.  

Where does this leave Western Australian politics?

The political consequences of Federal Labor’s policies coupled with demographic changes are that Labor is seen as a real threat to the prosperity of the most dynamic regional economy in Australia. 

The challenge for Western Australia's Liberal-National government is to preside over the continuing development of the local economy, removing restrictions on business so it can diversify the sources of prosperity and open up new parts of the state for development. 

The problem for Labor is that its model of big government economic management has no reverberation in a region whose voters perceive economic activity as deriving from a pioneering private sector, strong links to Asia and visionary entrepreneurs. 

Western Australians have too much invested in the success and growth of this regional economy.  As Megalogenis first argued, the demographic story of the 2010 Federal election is that Australia has three political zones: conservative, progressive and in between.  According to Megalogenis, the bedrock of Liberal support at the 2010 election is 'super-majorities' in Western Australia and Queensland.  Unlike the so-called 'progressive' states of South Australia or Tasmania, Western Australian families cannot afford any deterioration in the state's economic position as their economic security now depends on high wages, rising property prices, foreign investment and Asian demand for resources instead of government hand-outs

Strong state governments do matter and ensuring that these governments are competent, honest, functional and small ought to be high on the conservative policy agenda.  The bottom line is that Labor has left the field so conservatives need to occupy this space.