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Federalism and Regionalism in Australia

Federalism and Regionalism in Australia: New Approaches, New Institutions?

A.J. Brown
J.A. Bellamy
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Federalism and Regionalism in Australia
    Book Description:

    Australia's federal system is in a state of flux and its relevance is being challenged. Dramatic shifts are occurring in the ways in which power and responsibility are shared between governments. Pressure for reform is coming not just from above, but from below, as the needs of local and regional communities - both rural and urban - occupy an increasingly important place on the national stage. How will these competing pressures for centralisation and devolution in the structures of federalism be reconciled? In this volume, experts and policy practitioners from diverse backgrounds canvass this uncertain future to conclude that the future of state, regional and local institutions is not only a vital question of federal governance, but must be addressed in a conscious and concerted way if Australian federalism is to evolve in ways that are sufficiently legitimate, effective, efficient and adaptive.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-42-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Part 1. Setting the Scene:: Old Questions or New?

    • Chapter 1: Introduction
      (pp. 3-10)
      A. J. Brown and Jennifer Bellamy

      Australia’s federal system of governance is in a state of flux, and its relevance in a globalised world is being challenged. After decades of debate about different possibilities for institutional reform – some of them predating Federation itself – dramatic shifts are occurring in the way in which power and responsibility are shared between federal, state and local governments, and in the emergence of an increasingly important ‘fourth sphere’ of governance at the regional level of Australian society. For those who fear a continuing growth in the power of the Commonwealth Government, the shifting state of federalism may seem unwelcome;...

    • Chapter 2: Federalism, Regionalism and the Reshaping of Australian Governance
      (pp. 11-32)
      A. J. Brown

      For at least a generation, Australia has been regarded as, ‘constitutionally speaking’, a frozen continent (Sawer 1967). In the face of social and economic change and diverse pressures for adaptation in the structures of government, there has been little change, since 1901, in the formal structures of our federal system or success in updating the formal text of the federal Constitution. In reality, however, Australia’s systems of government and public administration have been anything but static. Indeed, since the times of Australia’s Indigenous political geography – particularly over the 10,000 years since the last ice age – systems of social...

    • Chapter 3: The Political Viability of Federal Reform: Interpreting Public Attitudes
      (pp. 33-54)
      Ian Gray and A. J. Brown

      Does ‘regionalism’ have a popular basis in Australian political culture? When mapping possibilities for the future of Australian federalism, what is the contemporary ‘realm of the possible’ in terms of political support for reform to address long term deficits in regional governance? These questions are fundamental to understanding where current tensions and trends are leading the federal system. As outlined in the preceding chapters, and shown by many that follow, Australian federalism is not static – in response to diverse pressures, it is shifting and facing new institutional developments. But which options are recognisable by the larger community, which have...

  6. Part 2. Drivers for Change:: New Approaches to Federalism and Regionalism

    • Chapter 4: Towards a Wider Debate on Federal and Regional Governance: The Rural Dimension
      (pp. 57-70)
      Mal Peters

      Sir Henry Parkes, the father of federation, put forward the proposal in his 1889 Tenterfield oration that a ‘Convention of leading men of all the colonies should meet to devise the constitution which would be necessary for bringing into existence a federal government with a federal parliament’. His ambition to have a federal convention was realised and in 1891 a draft Australian constitution was presented to the Colonial Parliaments. Following the Federal Conventions of 1897-1898 and further work, a Constitution was formed that binds together the Commonwealth of Australia today.

      Sir Henry and other federal founders were visionary – they...

    • Chapter 5: Rescuing Urban Regions: The Federal Agenda
      (pp. 71-82)
      Brendan Gleeson

      Australia has long been, and remains, an essentially urban nation. Presently, nearly two out of every three Australians resides in one of the large urban regions that centre on our state capitals, and there is no sign that this proportion is diminishing. Most Australians prefer to live in the major metropolitan regions, which continue to offer the greatest opportunities for economic, social and cultural satisfaction.

      ‘Seachange’ and ‘treechange’ migrations are of great national significance because they are occurring in areas that appear ill equipped, in a variety of ways, to accommodate major population increases (Burnley and Murphy 2003). They are...

    • Chapter 6: The Challenge of Coastal Governance
      (pp. 83-94)
      Mike Berwick

      The challenge for reform of regional governance within the Australian federal system, facing all of Australia, is especially sharpened in coastal communities. In these communities, increasing social, economic and environmental pressures associated with unprecedented levels of population growth and increasing levels of international and domestic tourism, all make the policy and service demands on government and communities particularly pressing and complex (NSCT 2006). The movement of people to the coast is a national issue impacting on coastal communities in every Australian State and Territory, and it is gathering pace.

      Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, it is estimated that...

    • Chapter 7: Adaptive Governance: The Challenge for Regional Natural Resource Management
      (pp. 95-118)
      Jennifer Bellamy

      Concern for the sustainability of our interdependent social and natural systems is growing exponentially in policy and science arenas, both nationally and internationally, as exemplified by recent policy statements and debates on major environmental issues such as global climate change (e.g. Stern 2006; Cosier 2006; Environment Business Australia 2004), water use and management in Australia (e.g. The Wentworth Group 2003, 2006; NWC 2006) and the health of our natural ecosystems (e.g. Australian SOE Committee 2006; Morton et al 2003; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Human induced changes are having significant impacts on our natural resources with major implications for issues such...

    • Chapter 8: Regionalism and Economic Development: Achieving an Efficient Framework
      (pp. 119-134)
      Andrew Beer

      Economic development remains an aspiration of governments across Australia at the national, state and local levels. Both communities and governments seek growth with respect to their population, gross regional product, average income and the quality and quantity of their infrastructure. The impetus for economic development has, in large measure, dominated Australian politics and society over the last two decades, contributing to the reform of labour markets, the amalgamation and restructuring of local governments, changes to education and higher education, shifts within the public sector and a recasting of immigration. Central governments have been a major catalyst for economic growth, with...

    • Chapter 9: Reconceiving Federal-State-Regional Arrangements in Health
      (pp. 135-152)
      Andrew Podger

      Australia has a generally good health system, but it is changing in response to existing challenges and it faces new challenges which require substantial reform if the system is to remain affordable and effective. The system is huge, with expenditure in health accounting for around 9.7% of Australia’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). It is difficult to imagine an area of public policy and service delivery with which the average Australian citizen would have more contact, or of greater importance to the community. As a result, substantial reform is difficult – politically, financially and logistically.

      This chapter examines some of...

  7. Part 3. New Institutions?: Approaching the Challenge of Reform

    • Chapter 10: Taking Subsidiarity Seriously: What Role for the States?
      (pp. 155-170)
      Brian Head

      This chapter focuses on the issues and challenges for State governments in reforming Australian federalism. It proposes the more effective use of subsidiarity principles as a benchmark for assessing various reform proposals recently put forward from a range of perspectives. It examines some of the possible roles of state governments within an evolving federal system that has recently been characterised by a series of national agreements on major policy issues. The various proposals for fundamental redesign of the federation, including abolition of the States, are rejected. An argument is made in favour of a practical focus on effective and responsive...

    • Chapter 11: How Local Government Can Save Australia’s Federal System
      (pp. 171-184)
      Paul Bell

      The debate about federalism is gathering momentum. Australia’s system of government is facing renewed scrutiny as we enter an era where blame-shifting, cost-shifting and duplication between the three spheres of government have become part of the public debate (e.g. House of Representatives 2003; LGI 2006; Dollery 2005; Wild River 2006). As a nation, we have already passed up two prime opportunities to reflect on the nature of our federation and how it should evolve to meet the nation’s needs. The Centenary of Federation was a lost opportunity; something we did not take sufficient advantage of. So, too, was the constitutional...

    • Chapter 12: Reforming Australian Governance: Old States, No States or New States?
      (pp. 185-200)
      Kenneth Wiltshire

      Australia’s creaking federalism is back in the news, as events cause us to reflect on the appropriateness of our system of governance.

      There is nothing surprising in this, since federalism is supposed to be a dynamic form of government. We see such dynamism also in the international scene. Not so long ago, Belgium moved from being a unitary to a federal country to accommodate cultural and linguistic differences. Great Britain established new regional assemblies in Scotland and Wales and devolved some central powers to them. Italy and Spain have experienced a resurgence of regionalism driven by cultural and economic forces,...

    • Chapter 13: Quantifying the Costs and Benefits of Change: Towards A Methodology
      (pp. 201-224)
      Christine Smith

      As outlined in previous chapters of this book, the current state of evolution of Australia’s system of federation has been the subject of considerable criticism in recent years. This chapter narrows in on those criticisms that focus on economic factors, including the assignment of expenditure responsibilities and revenue raising powers between the federal, state and local levels. It also recognises the emergence of new regional governance and service delivery arrangements and speculates on the capacity of these arrangements to act as an alternative to more substantive change in other elements of the system. The purpose of this chapter is not...

    • Chapter 14: Where To From Here? Principles for a New Debate
      (pp. 225-230)
      A. J. Brown and Jennifer Bellamy

      As the chapters in this book have demonstrated, the relationship between subnational regionalism and federalism remains an enduring dilemma in Australian public policy. In response to globalisation and increasing demands for social, economic and environmental sustainability, the role of local and regional governance has re-emerged as an important practical and political issue for the restructuring of the federal system of governance. This is not as a result of some ‘high theory’ of regionalism as a sociological construct, nor political activism for devolutionary change based on particular constitutional ideologies. While both sociological theory and constitutional ideology form part of our history...

  8. Appendix - Reform of Australia’s Federal System: Identifying the Benefits
    (pp. 231-280)