Weekend reflections

Those who are not opinionated out from commenting on public intellectuals, feel free to have a bash below.

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17 years ago

A “Geoffrey Robertson” hypothetical:

A moderately powerful nuclear weapon has exploded above the geographic centre of Seoul.

What will happen next?

Tony Harris
17 years ago

The price of oil and gold will rise.

17 years ago

I tried this last week with little success, so I thought I would try just once more.

If State governments basically tell local governments what to do, why do we have LGs at all? Sure there may be some scope for them but why bother electing them as essentially the communities that elect them are ignored as LGs have to bow down to State Governments.

So shouldn’t there be some form of separation powers between LGs and States? Or maybe we should just appoint an administrator to all LGs and be done with it?

On an unrelated topic: anyone got any idea when the High Court is going to give a verdict on The WorkChoices vs. States legislation?

17 years ago

See therein lays my problem – It seems anti-democratic when the State elects one lot of people that can tell the elected LG lot what to do.

Every time I try to continue with this line of thought, my inherent bias gets in the way. I guess I may as well bite the bullet.

Well it seems to make sense to me State Governments telling metropolitan coastal LGs to do as 99% of the time they would’ve done it anyway.

However, my dilemma is with the regional and rural LGs, how can these elected LG councillors be held accountable by the people in the LG when they’re doing what they’re told to do by the States when the State Minister has never visited, never attempted to understand the issues that concern that community?

Being NSW base I only have that as a guide, but take the now Planning Minister Frank Sartor, former lord mayor of Sydney, who can revoke any LGs powers it sees fit on a whim (under new laws) when I’m willing to venture he’s never travelled beyond the three or four major regional centres beyond the blue mountains. So how would he know anything about the situation? There’s no substitute for first hand information.

So if that is the way it is going to be, wouldn’t it make more sense for the States to appoint the LG councillors rather than have a faux-election? Which suggests it is only there to give people a semblance of democracy rather than democracy.

It is also probably worth mentioning that LGs pre-date federation.

The only other alternative I see is a clear separation of powers between States and LGs and that’s a dilemma in itself as what that should be. Which of course you suggested more succinctly.

I guess the basis of my argument/questions is pluralism. Do the States accept the diverse nature of the many communities they supposedly support or do they prefer the my way or highway solution that is becoming increasingly common.

My response has been a bit erratic as I hadn’t fully comprehended the intent of your comment initially, but it would appear to me that the proposals are not tractable at all. That seems to be my core disagreement with what you have said.

I apologise for my ramblings but that is the way of live thought – it jumps from one area of the topic to the next.

17 years ago

“It is also probably worth mentioning that LGs pre-date federation” But of course so do the States.

In theory I prefer as much local autonomy as possible. I understand local authorities are much more autonomous in the USA, even to the extent of controlling the voting procedures for federal elections. This led directly to the controversy in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election.

Nevertheless it’s hard to deny that there’s an excessive level of corruption in local government, in many instances requiring State government intervention. As well, nimbyism in many cases threatens commonsense solutions to zoning etc. Local councils certainly waste a lot of rate-payers’ money fighting decisions at the Land and Environment Court in NSW.

I’m generally in favour of the existing system, although I do think Frank Sartor is vastly over-zealous and arrogant.

Richard Phillipps
Richard Phillipps
17 years ago

The real question, I think, is what the State governments are doing. We have a population the size (about) of Shanghai, or (about) of New York. Why do we need three levels of government? By and large, it is hard to see what issues are really State-related – the States are so big (geographically) and they cover such diversity of climate and industry that they seem to have little homogeneity. A dairy farmer from the New England has not much in common with a stockbroker in Vaucluse.

There are strong arguments for centralising on a national level big issues – education, defence, health, criminal law, consumer law, family law, and so on.

On the other hand, regions often do present a degree of specificity that is important, and that in relation to regional issues a degree of self-control is important to preserve that specificity and to allow a pleasing amount of diversity. For example, in addition to allowing regions to control, at least to an extent, building approvals, there are respectable arguments that Surfers Paradise, Pymble, and Toowoomba probably all have different liquor licensing needs, and should be able to regulate so as to meet those needs. Similar arguments might be made about other areas of activity.

The problem is that, in some States at least, local government does not attract a high level of candidate, and local government areas are often, in reality, run by the clerks in the offices. I am not knocking bureacrats, but they will tend to have bureacratic priorities.

Further, if the local government area gets too small, the economies of scale go missing, which is why NSW is amalgamating some local government areas.

Finally, I think that the American approach is interesting, but I have two reservations. The first is that I don’t like the idea of locally elected (or locally appointed) police, magistrates, and the like. It seems to me to be too open to cronyism and non-competitive mediocrity. Second, I think that it may be that the American approach is heavily dependent on a much stronger sense of civic duties and rights, which may come from the German influence on the american polity, than we have. I cannot see Australians being willing to go to “town meetings” as the yanks seem to do. More’s the pity.

Lance Kelly
17 years ago

The answer is firstly should we keep the present system of Government given to us by the Imperialist English and handed down over generations of white men with their heads up their arse and stuffing everything they can with as much fenzy as they can.
Of course the answer is simple NO. Get rid of the political system we have and replace it with a simplified two tier system which requires business groups to support and not the individual. We are so top heavey with public servants that all we can do is expect to fall over. Intermix all parts of the multicultural society in the political circle.
Remove the wasteful three tier public labour force and make everything contractual only with no guarantee of contract renewal and with completely clear and transparent accountability for each and every transaction run by the people of that community.
Of course Australia cant wipe its arses unless it consults the public servant first who in most peoples eyes are the answer to everything. But of course public servants have no personal acocuntability and will always find someone else to blame when everything falls down.
We are on the ever widening circle that continues round and round where we creat ponzi government quangos and overpay the public servant so that they can feel comfortbale while that actual people who do the real work in society suffer at the BS Public servant mental beauracracy which is controlling them to the enth degree. Its about time business realised in Australia that only by critical action that involves substantial overhaul that this country will ever get off its arse and become a decent economy not ruled by the politically correct socialist engineers that dominate most of the governments departments.
Of course we need change and substantial change, but with the present system you have buckleys.

Richard Phillipps
Richard Phillipps
17 years ago

It’s a bit much to blame the English. They gave us the rule of law, representative democracy, a language that is still the world medium for business and diplomacy, nobless oblige, concepts of rectitude and accountability in public administration, the idea of fair play, separation of church and state and incidentally a christianity which, even if you are an unbeliever, set normative standards of kindness, humility, and fairness. And, of course, they are the ancestors of most of us.

Nor did the brits really give us a 3 tier system of government. They set up colonies governed, essentially, from Whitehall. The colonies then decided to join in a commonwealth. The colonies could, and should, at that stage have committed hara kiri, but greed and self interest being what it is, they did not.

In fact, as any newspaper shows, we are seeing the quite speedy erosion of state powers, as the Cth takes over more and more, and a good thing too.

It’s also a bit much, really, to bang on in a non-specific way about “public servants”. Of course tax should be kept to a respectable minimum, and of course private enterprise and competition are important. But any big organisation, public or private, will tend to develop a bureacracy – if it does not, it will implode. And large private corporations can be, and often are, every bit as rule-governed, formal, slow and inflexible as the worst of the public sector, with the further twist that they do not have a concept of public service and of accountability.

The more interesting issue is to daydream about the sort of politys (?sp polities?) you would have if you start from scratch. We already have states and local government areas. In NSW at least we also have “mini-shires” which are the growing (and often quite large) strata and community scheme neighbourhoods where the community enacts all sorts of laws, enforceable plans, and the like, governing behaviour – down to the colour of your letterbox. As well as excluding pets, some of these have recently talked of enacting by-laws excluding children.

But if we think of medieval europe with its city-states there might be other logical groupings that merit autonomy. Obviously, cities such as Sydney and Melbourne could stand alone. Why does not greater Sydney have less legal status than Tasmania or South Australia?

What about corporate areas? Mining towns are often de facto governed by the company; could we have de jure corporate states? What about universities? Surely there is a respectable argument that the larger unis should have considerable power to legislate for the behaviour of their inhabitants (and, of course, to some extent they do).

Tony Harris
17 years ago

Good commentary from Andrew Norton on the curriculum debate.

There are three curriculum options – markets, federal, national. Julie Bishop is advocating the worst of the three, and the state governments the second worst. The best, alas, is not even on the table.

Lance Kelly
17 years ago

Thats right, the Brits did give some of that hereditary muck up you refer to, but definitely not all. God gave us a free will to think with. Are we designed and controlled by the Commonwealth? I think the point is lost on you. It is the 21st century. Not the 19th. All politics has some similarity with some other, it is pure laziness to assume that we get all our aspirational politics from England or indeed America. We get our welfare mentaliity from the Swiss model if anything can be said about that area. The problem with our political society is we think linearly all the time – ie right and left and there seems to be no change from the tried and true historical idealisms, when indeed many more improved intellectual thought processes with which we can avail ourselves that arent just this approach.
Postmodern thought would suggest we could (and indeed we should) write a new narrative (restory) what we understand about society and indeed hegemonic concepts. Im sure that if we could look at our society in new way we would be able to see some very serious problems which we dont accept at present and we could see ways in which we could change our society for the betterment of all Australians.
Paul Keating had some truths about our society in becoming more part of Asia more so than this idealist imperialist attentiveness that we place on our politics.

Damien Eldridge
17 years ago

Hi Everyone!!!

The 2006 Bank of sweden Prize in Economics was awarded to Edmund S. Phelps, for his analysis of intertemporal trade-offs in macroeconomic policy. The official prize announcement can be read at the following address:


(Note that the full stop is not part of the web address.)