I’m waiting for a pizza to arrive at my office, so here is a quick argument about Australian federalism now that we’re emerging from the ‘roni.
Back before he was Prime Minister, Tony Abbott wrote a book that was supposed to be his political manifesto. In it, he argued strongly in favour of stripping powers away from the States and conferring them upon the Commonwealth (he specifically wanted a referendum that would allow the Commonwealth Parliament to go through a relatively simple process to give itself powers). When he formed government, he did a massive backflip and converted to the way of States’ Rights. There was a big audit of all the things that the Commonwealth did that should be sent to the States.
The audit delivered its report and it mostly collected dust. There wasn’t the appetite for getting the States to do things.
Scott Morrison appears to believe, quite genuinely and not unseriously, in the federal system and devolving powers back to the States. There are some exceptions to this belief, most notably about cyber-issues, particularly the digital economy.
For whatever reason, people forget what happened back at the start of the pandemic. Trump and Johnson were largely disinterested in managing the outbreak. For whatever reason, a lot of the online AusPol crowd think that the Morrison government did similarly. In fact, Australia was criticised for how rapidly it shut down the border. Dutton wanted to use Christmas Island as a quarantine station; the State Premiers criticised him, with McGowan claiming (quite awkwardly) that Christmas Island was no place for Australians. Berejiklian thought that NSW would use hospitals for quarantining, causing a minor spat with the Commonwealth.
There are good reasons to believe that one of the reasons that Australia did so well during the pandemic was because of this early overreach. We don’t share a major land border with another country, so once the Commonwealth went hard on the border, Australia was likely to do well (which it did). The question that emerged was how to handle the ongoing aspects of the pandemic.
Enter Mr Federalism, the Prime Minister: these are matters that are more obviously within the legislative remit of the States and, therefore, the States should handle them.
So what happened?
Continue reading “Quick Post: Did federalism survive the pandemic?”