This week


‘If we were starting Australia all over again, I wouldn’t support having the existing state structure, I would actually support having a national government, and perhaps a series of regional governments.’

And if we were starting John Howard all over again it might have to be in the Fabian Society. This self-proclaimed most conservative politician to lead the Liberal Party turns out to be, if not the most radical, certainly the most protean. He’s not actually going to abolish the states – it’s ‘unrealistic’, he says – but he’s letting them know that they’re obsolete and in the way of the national interest. They’re a bit like ‘unrepresentative swill’, as his predecessor once said of the place that represents them.

Paul Keating’s remark brought a storm of outrage from conservatives and commentators, as all the former expressions of Labor’s centralist philosophy once did: but Mr Howard’s frontal assault on federalism has brought polite and considered comment. This may be because everyone knows he is at least half-right – or right to the extent that the states are accidents of history and the system under which they exist is often ‘dysfunctional’, as the PM says. ‘Our Federation should be about better lives for people, not quiet lives for governments,’ has the motherhood ring of truth about it.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Of course, his Labor opponents can’t protest too loudly: they’re the traditional centralists with a record a mile long, and the paradox of their control of all the state governments only makes their path more treacherous. Labor could protest that the attack on the states is really an expression of the privatisation agenda – that the Liberals’ new federalism is really privatised federalism – but that might also turn embarrassing if someone goes leafing through the records of their own leaders’ speeches over the past couple of decades. In other words, whatever else he has done with his speech to the Menzies Institute, John Howard has again driven a wedge into the Labor Party.

As for his own side of politics – suddenly described in the media as comprising ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ – on the experience of the past decade we can be sure that no one will protest at what to Robert Menzies and the John Howard of a decade ago would be the most egregious heresy. For that to happen people have to believe in something more than pragmatism and political advantage, and these days only a fool would do that.

Instead we have seen a raft of ministers push their claims against the states in concert. It makes for an impressive juggernaut effect and one which makes federalism the matter for public debate and not the policy reality. That’s unless the PM’s claim that it’s ‘about choice and opportunity’ and ‘better lives for people’ takes us somewhere near the core of the policy debate we have to have.

In this issue of New Matilda the meaning of life and death triggered by the funeral of Pope John Paul II continues to be pondered. Some subscribers last week voiced their disappointment that we had covered the subject at all. But articles around the topic keep being sent in – and the perceived meanings are varied and compelling of a ceremonial event that was both exclusive and inclusive, spiritual and political, ancient and modern.

Each week the content of the magazine is a mix of unsolicited articles and those we’ve commissioned. Cartoons and illustrations are usually selected at the last minute and we hope add an extra dimension. A number of leading cartoonists are generously allowing us to choose from their portfolios and new illustrations are commissioned each week.

Getting the mix right is the hard part and we won’t always manage it. As a weekly magazine of political and social issues New Matilda often introduces topics not yet covered by mainstream media, tries to get behind some of the stories being aired, and also to reflect readers’ concerns. A big ask when we publish no more than ten articles a week – but subscriber feedback (usually) tells us we are not just ‘more to read’ each week but sometimes essential. Statistics are most encouraging. In March we had the second highest number of visitors (7,894) since the election.

The website is having another upgrade to allow us to add regular new features. A new feature this week is a list of blogs compiled for us by former ALP ministerial adviser turned spin doctor and new media evangelist and blogger Trevor Cook.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.