GREG RAY: Just stating the obvious

ABOLISHING state governments would be the best political and administrative reform Australia could enact.

That’s what I reckon anyway, speaking strictly from the perspective of a resident of a regional area that is mercilessly robbed and plundered by a state government that is bound, by ironclad political incentives, to cater almost exclusively to its capital city.

But since I reached this conclusion – discarding my previous preference for setting up a new state of Northern NSW – I’ve been surprised at how many other people agree.

Like old Hawkey, for instance.

The former PM was quoted in the media this week calling for Aussies to ditch the states in the interests of better governance.

‘‘We have a set of governments that represent the meanderings of the British explorers over the face of the continent over 200 years ago,’’ the Silver Bodgie said.

‘‘They drew lines on a map and then said that is how Australia is going to be governed.

‘‘ If you were drawing up a system of government for Australia today, in ideal terms, what we have got now is the last thing you would have.’’

John Howard agreed in 2007 that, if we were starting all over again, Australians wouldn’t want their state governments. Certainly not in their present form. But he wasn’t any more willing to put in the effort to get rid of them than Bob Hawke was. Pity.

Local Labor boy Joel Fitzgibbon is another pollie who has previously argued Australia is over-governed and over-regulated.

‘‘We don’t need three tiers of government,’’ Fitzy said last year.

‘‘I mean what is unique about our country is we have something like 15 chambers of legislature and God knows how many politicians to run a country with 22million people in it. It’s just crazy and it’s inefficient.’’ As long ago as 2006 it was estimated that the financial savings alone would amount to at least $30billion.

A 2005 survey of NSW citizens led by A.J.Brown from Griffith University found only 24.9per cent of respondents had confidence in state governments, 40.9per cent had faith in the federal government and 34.2per cent had confidence in local government. 

I suspect those figures might be a bit different in some parts of the Hunter where certain local government organisations appear determined, at times, to ensure that nobody at all has any faith in them.

 So you couldn’t get rid of the states without fixing up local government to make it a lot more accountable than it is at present.

Still, assuming you did that, the Griffith University study found 47.4per cent of people preferred the idea of a two-tiered federal-regional system. Only 12.5per cent wanted to leave things as they are.

Not even capital city people – whom you might think would be thrilled at being the near-total focus of an entire government apparatus that is nominally supposed to look after everybody in the state – think the system works well enough to keep.

Even they can see the duplication, waste and inefficiency.

From my point of view all those things are bad, but not as bad as the absurd unfairness of resource allocation by state governments.

The federal government collects income tax, company tax and GST from all of us. It keeps what it claims to need for its own functions, then hands over an allegedly fair share to each state and territory government.

Once it gets into the state capitals it’s almost impossible to get any of it back out, mostly because the majority of electorates are there.

Might is always right in politics, so it seems the faults can’t be fixed.

 The only solution is to break up the system and build a better one in which the state capitals get their fair share, but are stopped from routinely stealing everybody else’s slice of the pie.

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