Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Federal – States relationship

Dr. Robert Dean’s (Melbourne Age Opinion 2/10) article triggers attention to the constitutional frustration and confusion which exists in Australian politics between the runaway tax (and handout) power of the federal government and the diminishing power of the states, resulting from the takeover of income tax powers by the Commonwealth government during WWII.

This raises serious questions (not to mention angst) about the operation of government under our federal constitution and its changing interpretation by the High Court.

These problems are exacerbated by the party system which took hold soon after federation, with its party leader dominance in the House of Representatives, and lately the Senate, substantially overriding the constitutional powers given to the senators to represent the interests of their states. But most senators are members of the major parties, giving them, at least, dual loyalties.

(I have long believed that the solution to this imbalance lies in the denial of party power in government by requiring the House to settle all debated matters and the appointment of ministers by ballot, with grass roots involvement and independent representation being the result. Failing this, what could be the answer?)

We could take a look at the German constitutional approach!

‘All Bundesrat members … have a twofold role. They hold an office in their federal state, whilst simultaneously holding a federal office, i.e. they are both state politicians and federal politicians. This means that Bundesrat members shoulder comprehensive political responsibility. They cannot overlook the ramifications of their actions at federal level when engaging in their political activities at state level, and in their Land ministries they feel the direct impact of the federal policy they help to shape.’[1]

This looks promising!

It would seem that the balance between the centrist power of our federal government and the states could be advantageously resolved by a constitutional approach similar to that of the German republic.

Many perhaps believe that the states have had their day and should be replaced by regions. This idea may have merit but the regions would still have the same problem. And the answer to a too-powerful central government would still be the same.