‘I am delighted to be speaking in Cairns, capital of the new State of North Queensland,’ I told the new state ‘Boot Brisbane’ movement last week. ‘Having just seen the Legislative Assembly in session in Cairn’s beautiful old Masonic Temple, I am to visit historic Floriana, now Government House, on the invitation of the Governor, Sir Jonathon Thurston, KSC.’’
I was in fact stating what I would say if I were invited to speak on the new state’s creation. Discussed before and during Federation, it has in our time been declared inevitable by the eminent demographer, Bernard Salt.
Importantly the new state should in no way arise from the present political swamp, but be part of the most significant change in Australian governance since Federation.
Unlike some faux republic, this should be about returning the governance of Australia to its people. Consistent with this, it should be the people, rather than the normally obstructionist state politicians, who should decide whether a new state should be formed.
The need to return authority to the people became obvious to me when Australians for Constitutional Monarchy were running the No case in the 1999 republic referendum.
The elites said we were wasting our time. Even were we to win the referendum, which they said wasn’t going to happen, their fake republic would prevail in the next.
Writing a book for the campaign, The Cane Toad Republic, I found that there was no precedent for this optimism. Whenever Canberra has gone back to the people for a reconsideration of their refusal to grant some or other power, the people have said No, sometimes five times.
But then I noticed there was no need to put another referendum to obtain these powers; activist judges had effectively handed them over to Canberra.
This is wrong; the answer to the disastrous situation the politicians have put us in today lies in the people taking charge.
This, after all, is precisely what was done to achieve Federation. Realising that Federation would never be achieved by the politicians in the six parliaments who fell into endless squabbling when they received the draft constitution from the Convention they had appointed, Sir John Quick came to the conclusion that there was another way.
This was to hand the process over to the people.
This solution, the Corowa Plan, was finally adopted in 1897. After a wide consultation by the Convention, the draft constitution was put not to the politicians but to the people by way of referendums. For the first time in history, a Constitution was actually approved by the people and without war, riots or any violence.
The whole process, including getting the Constitution through the British Parliament, took less than four years. This was without the Internet, jet planes and modern forms of communication.
We can’t build a dam in that time, or even lay a tram track down George Street in Sydney.
Our ancestors had shown themselves to be the most sophisticated and most advanced people in the world. We can thank them for the fact that we are the only nation to occupy a continent, one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world and that we are unrivalled in our military contributions to the defence of the freedom of others.
A halt to our further decline, inevitable if we leave our fate in the hands of the political class, lies with us. We must insist that a new convention be elected on the principles of Corowa.
‘Boot Brisbane’ — www.bootbrisbane.com.au — could well encourage the formation of corresponding movements across the country, such as ‘Sack Sydney’, ‘Mug Melbourne’ and ‘Kick Canberra’.
This could lead not only to a doubling of the number of states but an end to the damaging and extremely wasteful centralisation, duplication and bureaucratic waste far worse than in any comparative federation, such as the US, Canada, Germany or Switzerland.
Note that not only does such bloated centralisation and over-regulataion emanate from Canberra, but also from equally profligate governments in Sydney Melbourne and Brisbane. This is costing us billions, on some calculations, $340 billion. Not as a one-off, but every year.
What our founders intended and the people have always insisted — when asked — is that federal parliament and government enjoy only strictly limited powers.
No politician should ever again feel confident to say without challenge, as Bill Shorten recently did, that, if he were prime minister, no promotion of the Everest horse race would ever appear on the sails of the state’s Sydney Opera House.
In the meantime, to the claim that North Queensland is not large enough or rich enough to be a state, the reply must be that it would easily qualify as such in all comparative federations.
The only real barriers to the formation of new states have been the machinations of the politicians and the horror in the public mind of creating even more politicians. This is because most Australians know that politicians are in no way better managers or more competent than they are. Indeed, they often seem to lack the common sense that is demonstrated by what Alan Jones named the ‘pub test’.
The solution is to put the pub test into the constitution by making the politicians truly accountable, not just in confected elections every few years but accountable on every day, of every week and of every month — just as most working Australians are.
So in my future address I would add:
‘You were wise indeed to include in your Constitution: A requirement that in return for the generous financial and legal benefits accorded to a political party, that party has to be open, transparent and democratic;
A right for the people to petition for recall elections as in several American states and one Canadian province;
A right for the people to initiate referendums to legislate, repeal or change court rulings about the Constitution as in Switzerland.’
It is time for government, federal or state, to rise from the Antipodean swamp more fetid than anything in any other comparable democracy.
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