The States are in a State

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What are states for? Are they the building blocks of our nation, without which we would quickly slide into tyranny and chaos? Or are they simply pointless indulgences that suffocate the people with their superfluous layers of governance?

These questions are indeed worthy of being asked today as we survey the Australian political landscape and see the smoking ruins that were once state governments, choking our atmosphere with the toxic fumes of corruption, political expediency and Michael Costa.

State governments were once wonderful things. They supplied police and education and inspirational state mottoes on numberplates – "NSW: The Premier State"; "Victoria: The Place To Be"; "Western Australia: Uranium and Hookers"; etc. They were the fun-loving, soft-hearted uncles to the Federal Government’s stern abusive father, and local governments’ mouth-breathing second cousins.

So what went wrong? Let’s have a look at the disasters that have befallen our middle tier of government of late.

Firstly, in New South Wales, the biggest and shiniest of states, we have seen the decline and fall of Morris Iemma, a premier whose reign, though it ended in ignominy and sadness, was in its noblest moments every bit as progressive and life-affirming as the influenza pandemic of 1918. The Iemma government had been struggling for a while, its fortunes on the decline due to an unhappy convergence of circumstance, as the sagging economy combined with ministers’ tendency to be extremely bad at their jobs. How blind fate makes fools of us all.

The real killer for Iemma was his plan to privatise NSW’s electricity industry in order to raise money for groceries. A gutsy and audacious plan, it was defeated by opposition from unionists and the Liberals, who blocked the legislation with their usual principled commitment to the anti-capitalism philosophy on which Robert Menzies founded the party.

And so, several decades after it became clear his premiership was untenable, Morris Iemma took swift and decisive action. He quickly moved to sack his treasurer, Costa, and several hours later moved just as quickly to sack himself. Latest sightings have him roaming the central coast in a disoriented state, attempting to sack seagulls and public toilets. Meanwhile, Nathan Rees ascended to the lofty position of premier, only a week after completing his work experience placement at parliament house. Despite the new broom, one can’t help but suspect it will be business as usual until Costa has Rees quietly whacked.

Unfortunately, Rees’s reign has got off to a bad start with the resignation of his Police Minister Matt Brown over an affair that will no doubt go down in history as "Tittie-F–king Your Mothergate", but which should, on the positive side, inspire youngsters everywhere with the knowledge that the higher echelons of government are accessible to anyone, no matter what their background or upbringing or personality disorders or species.

And now, look at Western Australia. Not literally, God forbid, but consider: the WA Liberal Opposition, having gotten rid of Troy "The Lingering Scent" Buswell, gained a new lease on life, and, reinvigorated, launched a robust and strong campaign, which by State Liberal standards means a campaign in which some of their frontbenchers had their photos taken. WA Premier Alan Carpenter responded by pointing out that Labor had taken great steps to improve its performance, and that less than 50 per cent of his MPs were now sleeping with Brian Burke.

The truck-driving millionaires who make up the WA electorate then made their intentions quite clear by engineering an election in which neither side won. Unfortunately this attempt by the populace to abolish the government altogether has failed and both parties have been desperately trying to form government with the help of the Nationals, which mainly means the whole state will have to listen to farmers bitching non-stop for the next few years. See what state government has wrought?

And then there’s Tasmania, which is committed to allowing every inhabitant of the state to become Premier until they get it right. Following Jim Bacon, named after a dead pig, and Paul Lennon, who resembled one, the Tasmanians (or, as they are correctly called, "Novocastrians") now have David Bartlett holding the soggy, manure-smeared tiller of state, vowing to clean up the rotten mess that is Tasmanian politics and make the state a national leader in total volume of newspaper articles whining about not having a football team.

And what about Victoria, whose Premier/super-villain John Brumby, emboldened by his success in depriving his citizens of water, has decided to go for broke and immediately start killing babies.

The Territories, of course, are hardly even worth our disdain. The Northern Territory parliament only has four people in it, and the constitution states that any legislation passed must be automatically overturned by the Commonwealth, while the ACT government ceased to exist in the mid-1970s with no discernible effect.

The malaise is endemic and, it seems, irreversible. The States are in a state. What’s to be done?

I submit we have to rethink the whole concept of states. It’s a terribly American concept anyway. In the US, states serve a useful purpose, as delineators of individual character. One can always be confident, for example, that if a person is from New York they will be rude, that if they are from California they will be shallow, if they are from Alaska they will be a moron, and so on. But in Australia this doesn’t really work. No matter where in Oz you’re from, you’re bound to be a rude, shallow moron; it transcends boundaries.

So we don’t really need states, do we? We don’t need these great wasteful monoliths sucking up resources and perverting democracy; that’s what Canberra is for. We need to get rid of this unnecessary level of government, this appendix in the viscera of Australia, if you will, and move to a more decentralised, community-based model of governance.

I propose a network of local "micro-governments", each covering about 100 square metres, each with its own police force, education system, rail gauges and so on. Each district would be reigned over by a chieftain, appointed on a rotating three-week roster, and major decisions within the jurisdiction would be made by common consensus, or in certain circumstances, bare-knuckle boxing. In addition every district would elect a delegate once a year to go to Canberra and stand outside federal parliament screaming vague threats. In comparison to the state system, my proposal may indeed lose something in decorum and ceremonial trappings, but would more than make up for it in efficiency and entertainment.

The States have caused nothing but stagnation and division, creating artificial enmity between fellow Australians from different parts of the country. It’s time to get back to the true spirit of Australia: hating the people who live right next door.

New Matilda

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.

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