Making a virtue of a mess

Friday, 27 July 2007 

Not a lot of sense in an article by SMH’s Peter Hartcher on Howard’s recent attack on the states.

The problem is that he has confused the original intention of initiatives like the NT intervention, the Murray plan and the Haneef affair with how they have ended up.

None of these initiatives were started (or in the case of Haneef, escalated) by the federal government for the purpose of taking up a fight with the states. They were mainly attempts by the government to take control of the agenda and reaffirm the power of incumbency through action. The problem is that the dwindling political consensus behind the government has undermined the effectiveness of these actions and turned it into a squabbling mess.

That squabble has been less about political differences than being simply between separate branches of the state apparatus. For example, Howard’s fight with Beattie over Haneef is no more political than the one he is having with the legal profession (or the Brisbane magistrate who over-rode the presumption of bail denial that was embedded in the Anti-Terrorism legislation). Again, there is little political disagreement between the federal and WA governments over the rights and wrongs of the intervention in the indigenous communities, just a difference on which part of the state should do it. It would have made little difference whether they were Labor or Liberal state governments.

It is hard to see there is much benefit for Howard in all of this squabbling. As argued before, the threat of ‘coast-to-coast’ Labor governments does not make much sense (Hartcher also has a rather selective, and NSW-centric, reading of electoral history, forgetting the general coincidence of state and federal politics in the 1980s, 1960s, 1950s, 1940s etc.). These rows are likely to be seen for the petty squabbles they are and leave it open for Rudd to pose a new federalism of cooperation. Hartcher’s question on which side would benefit from this seems pretty easy to answer.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 27 July 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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