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Is Constitutional Change Possible?

May 19, 2011

No, was my basic answer. I was speaking tonight at the University of Sydney Law School launching with Senator George Brandis, shadow Attorney-General, their Constitutional Reform Unit.

Forget constitutional recognition of local government, the current favorite for a tweaking of our basic law. A state government, in my view, needs the discipline over councils that they now have but would lose, over time, if councils had a call on the High Court evey time a planning minister threatened to intervene. I remember taking on north coast councils when I was Planning Minister (1984 – 1988) when they threatened to bulldoze wetlands or do other environmental damage.

A republic? I want one, with the minimalist concept of the Governor General as head of state. But it will only happen when the leader of the coalition says to the leader of the ALP they will support it. You need both sides, maybe the Green Party as well, to get a majority in a majority of states to vote for a republic at a referendum. The republic is on hold until that day.

I spoke about the depletion of state power but the indestructibility of the states. Hence the logic of reviving federalism – of letting the states run more of the nation’s policies on health and education and the rest. And what’s wrong with states being able to compete on policy? With one state being able, for example, to decide to run a medically-supervised injecting room to save lives or to keep teaching history in schools when the others do things differently, to say nothing of bigger policy competition.

I said there was nothing inherently progressive about centralism or conservative about federalism.

Recognising rights in the constitution came up and I presented arguments against it as I have on many occasions. I was impressed, talking to students, how support for the notion seemed to be ebbing. And if support for a charter is ebbing in university law schools….

4 Comments
  1. thejackalscodex permalink
    May 20, 2011 3:58 pm

    Mr Carr,

    I agree that those changes Sen. Brandis proposed are unworkable. But what do you think about changes that make our federal compact fairer to the States? For example

    – Giving the States the power to initiate referendums
    – Giving the States a say in the selection of High Court judges, who have slowly expanded the ambit of federal legislative power
    – Changing how Commonwealth grants work, so that conditional grants are deterred

    And what do you think of constitutional reform at the State level? From your experience as Premier is there anything you’d like to change (putting aside the issue of whether such constitutional reform might be able to get bipartisan and popular support)?

  2. Richie Gun permalink
    May 21, 2011 10:19 am

    I agree. Let the States run what they have always run – except for the Murray-Darling basin.

  3. May 22, 2011 3:25 pm

    Recognising rights in the constitution came up and I presented arguments against it as I have on many occasions.

    What were they? I tend to endorse certain basic negative right like speech and property in the constitution however as the ‘right to bear arms’ in the States has shown, that can backfire when things change.

    However I think such stuff as Mr Howard’s anti-sedition laws show that our civil liberties cannot rely on mere custom. I may be wrong of course.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 22, 2011 6:09 pm

      See article on this site from The Australian and others on the Internet

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