Do you think Australia should get rid of the states/territories and adopt a unitary system? Why or why not?
In Australia, there have been talks going around regarding the issue of removing federalism altogether. This would mean the abolishing of the States and Territories in the country and there will be only one central government. These talks were further encourages from the example of India, which did towards the imposition of GST. That is considered as a step resulting in the decline of federalism. Former prime minister, Bob Hawke had also given a call for the abolishment of the State and Territory governments. Historically, labor has supported centralization while the coalition was in support of federalism. Therefore, the proposal made by Hawke is not surprising. However, leaving aside the party politics, it can still be stated that good reasons are present do to which Australia should consider introducing such a change in its constitution (Galligan, 1995)). The reason behind having a federal constitution in Australia is a negative one. There was an apprehension among the colonies that they may be dominated by each other or by the newly formed national government. Hence, it can be said that the adoption of federalism, as compared to a unitary system can be described as the price that had to be paid for creating Australia as the nation (Brown, 2004). On the other hand, at its worst, it can be described as a base compromise, which had to be made to deal with the colonial jealousies and which now burdens Australia with an expensive and complex form of government that was not necessary (Brown, 2002).
As compared to the countries like Nigeria, where federalism has to be a doctor to provide ethnic autonomy, no such problem is solved by the Australian federalism and similarly provides no such benefit. It is supposed that the major benefit provided by federalism is in the form of protection provided by against tyranny, as it defuses power. However, it is worth mentioning that federalism does not impact in any way, what can be done by the governments to the individuals and the defects only which government may do it (Jungwirth, 2001). The distribution of power is not an effective tool that can be used for the protection of liberty as compared to the restrictions on power. Similarly, federalism does not prescribe an effective limit on what may be jointly done by the Commonwealth and state parliaments to an individual. For this purpose, a Bill of Rights is required (Brown, 2001). The result is that Australia has nine governments and team legislative chambers, while it has only a population of 22 million. All this involves huge costs.
On the other hand, if Australia decides to move towards a unitary system, it will mean that, as is the case with the UK and New Zealand, Australia is also going to have only a single national Parliament. It will have all the lawmaking powers. The Parliament will be in a position to delegate the lawmaking authority to the regional or local government as at present, the state parliaments delegated powers to the local authorities (Winer, 2002).
An advantage of such a situation will be that there will be no more disputes regarding this lawmaking power is held by the national Parliament. Similarly, there will be no doubts regarding the fact that the national legislation overrides the regional and local legislation. In this way, the legal system will become a simpler. It will also result in reducing the cost of compliance for businesses as well as the individuals. Similarly, instead of having multiple agencies like at present, the country will have a single department of education and single departments of environment and agriculture etc. Another problem that is present in case of the federal state relations is related with the allocation of Commonwealth revenue to the States (Jungwirth, 2001). However in a unitary system, the expenditure is decided on the basis of the actual needs of the people, regardless of where they live and without any reference to the man-made state boundaries.
Therefore in the end, it can be said that at present, the focus is on “reforming the Federation” but in this case, the real issue is not debated, which is why should Australia have federalism at all? The issue is if we are going to write a new constitution, would we really opt for the present nine government system. If the answer to this question is in the negative, then there is good reason to present the change such a system
Brown, A.J. (2004) ‘One continent, two federalisms: rediscovering the original meanings of Australian federal political ideas’, Australian Journal of Political Science vol. 39, no. 4
Brown, A.J. (2001) ‘Can’t wait for the sequel: Australian federation as unfinished business’, Melbourne Journal of Politics, vol. 27
Brown, A.J. (2002) ‘After the party: public attitudes to Australian federalism, regionalism and reform in the 21st century’, Public Law Review, vol. 13 no. 3
Galligan, B. (1995) A Federal Republic: Australia’s Constitutional System of Government, Sydney, Cambridge University Press, pp. 32,
Jungwirth, G. (2001) in G. Patmore and G. Jungwirth, eds, the Big Make-Over: the New Australian Constitution, Sydney, Pluto Press, 2001, p. 135
Winer, S.L. (2002) Political Economy in Federal States: Selected Essays, Cheltenham, Eng., Edward Elgar, p. 96.