Sunday, March 22, 2009

A brief political meander

In writing Brian Pape's Constitutional Challenge I checked the comments sections on a couple of newspaper stories. Generally the comments divided on Party lines. I was struck by the savagery of some of the comments. People really wanted to see Mr Pape punished for his temerity.

This is actually quite an important case. Professor George Williams had a very good summary of the issues in the Sydney Morning Herald, while Ken Parish has a useful post on Club Troppo. The link to the Williams piece came from Ken's post.

For the benefit of international readers, under the Australian constitution the Commonwealth is granted power in certain areas. All other powers remain with the states.

Over time, Australia's High Court has widened the interpretation of the Commonwealth's powers. The Commonwealth Government has also become financially dominant in a way not envisaged at Federation. This has allowed it to move into areas still formally the domain of the states through the provision of tied financial support.

The combination of High Court decisions with the Commonwealth's use of its financial power has increasingly constrained the real freedom of the Australian states. The importance of the Pape case is that the decision may either roll-back Commonwealth power over the states or, alternatively, reinforce it.

Labor's comfortable win in yesterday's Queensland elections came as a bit of a surprise because the polls had been suggesting the opposite. Apparently there was a late shift in voter intentions from mid week.

Queensland elections have become more important simply because Queensland has become more important in national terms. Queensland's population growth has been higher in absolute terms than either NSW or Victoria, with growth concentrated especially in the south east corner - the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast connurbation.

One side-effect of this is that NSW will lose another seat in the Federal Parliament to Queensland. Given population shifts in New South Wales, this will have to come from inland New South Wales, reducing the number of seats outside Sydney and the coastal strip from eight to seven, seven to six if you count Eden-Monaro as coastal; the seat includes the NSW south coast.

These are seriously big electorates already. Farrer is almost 200,000 square kilometres, Parkes 107,000 square square kilometres. It becomes very hard to provide effective local representation in these circumstances. Having campaigned in the country when electorates were somewhat smaller, I do not envy the MPs involved.

Time to finish. I have a lot of things to do today, so I need to get going if I am to have any hope of completing my list.

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