John Millard's letter (Opinion, December 19) is a perfect example of the problem with water restrictions - they pit people against each other.
We're now told by our State Government that we should dob in neighbours if we see them watering their garden when they're not supposed to. This mentality cannot be beneficial for community cohesiveness. In reality, water restrictions are a clever way for the State Government to divert attention from its failure to properly manage water.
The solution is to move towards a market system where water would be priced according to usage and supply would increase to meet demand.
(Letter to the editor, Manningham Leader, January 2, 2008)
In the 21st century, the idea of federalism seems quaint and somewhat naive. Since 1920, the High Court has consistently handed down judgments that grant the federal government plenary power. Any notion of the States having powers that are beyond the Commonwealth’s grasp has been summarily dismissed. Not surprisingly, the noble intention of the founders to put in place a system where the federal government deals only with national matters such as defence, interstate commerce etc. and state governments are responsible for education, health and other local issues, has not been achieved in practice. There is not much left of federalism in the Australian Constitution.
Professor Craven documents the High Court’s centralising agenda in his book Conversations with the Constitution: Not Just a Piece of Paper. Reversing the decline of federalism, according to Craven, involves three steps. First, the states must have the ability to initiate referenda. The Commonwealth’s monopoly over the initiation of referendums has led to a series of pro-federal government proposals. Allowing states to put forward their ideas would present Australians a more balanced range of choices. Next, the federal government ought to obtain the agreement of at least three states before making a High Court appointment. Craven objects that the current system is biased:
By providing that the commonwealth executive should appoint the justices, the founders ensured that the umpires of the national game of constitutional football would be chosen by the captain of one of the competing teams, and would display a corresponding degree of neutrality (p.79).
Greater state input makes it more likely that judges in favour of restraining the federal government will be appointed.
Finally, the Senate should be transformed into a genuine ‘states house’. Senators should be selected by their respective state parliaments rather than being directly elected. Senators would then represent the party interests of Victoria, Tasmania, etc. but not the interests of the federal parliamentary parties.
If these changes were implemented, there would undoubtedly be a re-working of the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. However, most of Craven’s proposals require amendment of the Constitution via section 128, an exceedingly difficult process. Are there more practical means of restraining the federal government? Indeed there are. Missing from Craven’s analysis are two concepts related to federalism that could prove useful in restoring the Federal-State balance: namely, secession and nullification.
Secession is self-explanatory: it is the severing of ties from a larger political entity. In their Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (perhaps unintentionally) laid the groundwork for a theory of federalism that allows for genuine participation by the States in interpreting the Constitution. They posed a simple question: can one be in favour of states’ rights while at the same time denying them the means to enforce those rights? The answer, according to the two statesmen, is ‘no’. If states are to realistically enforce their constitutional rights, they will need to be able to wield the threat of secession when the federal government oversteps its bounds. Although Craven comes down in favour of federalism, he has elsewhere written against secession, apparently not seeing any inconsistency in supporting one but opposing the other! The NSW Legislative Council once advocated a right of secession, but Craven denounces its view as ‘wanton destruction’ as compared to the ‘constructive criticism’ of those states who accepted Commonwealth supremacy.
The theory of nullification, unlike secession, does not involve the complete severance of all bonds tying a state to the central government. Rather, nullification is deployed on a case-by-case basis to render void specific federal laws that affect a particular state. It is based on the principle that the highest federal court, itself an organ of the central government, should not wield a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. Constitutional interpretation is the inherent right of the people of each state – acting through their representatives – and cannot be the exclusive domain of the High Court. Examples of nullification are rampant in America, and include the widespread defiance of federal anti-marijuana laws by socially liberal states such as California.
The advantage of secession and nullification from a practical point of view is that they require majority support only in the state affected by federal oppression. Unlike constitutional amendment through section 128, which calls for a majority of Australian states as well as a majority of the Australian people, secession and nullification can be implemented peacefully through plebiscite or by a vote of the State parliament. Were these ideas to take root among the Australian public, they would be an effective means of limiting the federal government’s hegemony.
But if constitutional amendment is desired, then another idea, confederalism, would place the states in a powerful position vis-à-vis the federal government. Confederalism is a bulwark of states’ rights since the central government is dependent upon the states for its continued existence.1 The thirteen American states which united under the Articles of Confederation during the 1700s typified such a relationship between centre and states. This union then dissolved and re-formed under the US Constitution because of alleged difficulties in achieving national objectives under the Article’s finance arrangements. However, an excellent study by Russell Sobel shows that no such problem existed, and that the confederal model works just as well in this respect as federalism.2
Federalism, confederalism, secession and nullification are inextricably linked. Any discussion about how to reform federalism would benefit from consideration of all of its dimensions, and this Craven’s work fails to do. The notion of an Australian state seceding, or nullifying laws it declares unconstitutional, is not unusual once one considers that Australia – in effect – carried out a peaceful secession from the British Empire when it became an independent nation. Secession also became a major issue in the 1930s when Western Australians by a two-thirds majority indicated that they wanted to leave the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the Australian Government refused to honour the popular result and permit WA to secede. So these ideas are not new in Australian history, and have the added advantage of allowing for a potent check upon the federal government.
 A confederal model would live up to the hopeful words of Holder, a South Australian delegate to the constitutional conventions, who said: ‘I do not want that the States should be dependent for their existence on the Commonwealth. If there must be any dependency, there would be less danger in making the Commonwealth dependent on the States’. Convention Debates, Adelaide, 1897, p. 155.
 Russell Sobel, ‘In defence of the Articles of Confederation and the contribution mechanism as a means of government finance: A general comment on the literature’, Public Choice, No. 99, 1999, pp. 347-356.
US foreign policy over the past fifty years (whether Democratic or Republican), has been characterised by consensus on certain fundamental points.
Chief among these is the notion that American power ought to be used as a force for ‘good’ in the world.
Another key tenet accepted by the political establishment is that terrorist attacks are motivated by religious fanaticism and hatred of American values rather than practical grievances.
Various scholars have contended, however, that the planks of foreign policy accepted by the mainstream are flawed. In the first place, how can American power be a force for good when the revenue to fund state wars is acquired through coercive taxation, and is thus objectionable from an ethical standpoint? The taxation required to finance interventions constitutes a burden on the productive private sector and is hardly a force for good in the domestic sphere. Mark Crovelli further points out intervening states are themselves illegitimate and may be a danger to those they claim to protect.
Moreover, just as government involvement in economic affairs can produce unintended consequences, so too can military interventions lead to unexpected results. Writers such as Chalmers Johnson and Michael Scheuer have suggested that terrorists attack the US not due to an innate opposition to democracy and freedom, but because of resentment at American actions abroad.
Operations pursued overseas have led to ‘blowback’ against Americans, most notably on September 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden cited US support for Israel and repressive Arab regimes, the stationing of troops on the ‘holy land’ of Saudi Arabia and the sanctions on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians as specific grievances motivating the 9/11 attacks.
The belief that al Qaeda is motivated by opposition to Western systems of government or culture has led many to support measures such as the PATRIOT Act without pondering the implications for civil liberties. The Act greatly expands the scope of police power. Such an approach does not make much sense however, if one accepts the contentions of Johnson and Scheuer. Instead of curbing civil liberties and moving the US away from the rule of law, it would be better to address the root of the terrorists’ discontent: America’s military presence in the Middle East. This means withdrawing troops from that region, ending foreign aid to Arab regimes and generally pursuing a policy of non-interventionism.
The foreign policy establishment resists non-interventionism. Their analyses invariably propose aggressive deployments and strict sanctions to deter so-called rogue states. The problem with the establishment perspective is that it places the US on a permanent war footing by embroiling the military in sectarian conflicts that could be resolved at the local level.
This has adverse effects on liberty. War increases the size and scope of government: the military-industrial complex is kept well fed under the establishment policy however average citizens suffer reductions in their standard of living. As Randolph Bourne explains, ‘War is the health of the state’.
A common retort is that non-interventionists are naïve about the potential for nuclear weapons to be acquired by terrorists or used by rogue states. However the non-interventionist is in favour of unilateral free trade, meaning that rogue states would be engaged rather than isolated. Engagement, especially with respect to trade and finance, tends to increase interdependency and reduces the chances of war. China will be less eager to attack the US if it has a productive trading relationship with the American people. However the Chinese will feel few qualms about invading a protectionist third-world nation that is of minor economic importance.
States are unlikely to launch a nuclear first-strike because they have a home address and can be wiped out with brute force. The theory of ‘mutually assured destruction’ thus has an important place in devising strategy against rogue states.
But what about terrorists, who have no fixed location and engage in guerrilla warfare? It is improbable that a terrorist organisation could acquire a nuclear weapon. Benjamin Friedmanwrites: “The possibility that terrorists will soon manufacture nuclear or biological weapons and kill us in droves is remote. The difficulty of making nuclear and biological weapons is generally understated”. Leaders of rogue states know that if they were discovered to pass on such weapons to terrorist groups, they would soon be deposed by the US military, and so are unlikely to risk doing so.
There is consequently little reason to pursue a policy premised on global interventionism. It is important to scale back military bases around the world in order to preserve liberty at home.
The address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in convention, to the people of the slaveholding states of the United States
It is seventy-three years since the Union between the United States was made by the Constitution of the United States. During this time, their advance in wealth, prosperity and power has been with scarcely a parallel in the history of the world. The great object of their Union was defence against external aggression; which object is now attained, from their mere progress in power. Thirty-one millions of people, with a commerce and navigation which explore every sea, and with agricultural productions which are necessary to every civilized people, command the friendship of the world. But unfortunately, our internal peace has not grown with our external prosperity. Discontent and contention have moved in the bosom of the Confederacy for the last thirty-five years. During this time, South Carolina has twice called her people together in solemn Convention, to take into consideration the aggressions and unconstitutional wrongs perpetrated by the people of the North on the people of the South. These wrongs were submitted to by the people of the South, under the hope and expectation that they would be final. But such hope and expectation have proved to be vain. Instead of producing forbearance, our acquiescence has only instigated to new forms of aggression and outrage; and South Carolina, having again assembled her people in Convention, has this day dissolved her connection with the States constituting the United States.
The one great evil, from which all other evils have flowed, is the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States. The Government of the United States is no longer the Government of Confederated Republics, but of a consolidated Democracy. It is no longer a free government, but a despotism. It is, in fact, such a Government as Great Britain attempted to set over our fathers; and which was resisted and defeated by a seven years’ struggle for independence.
The Revolution of 1776 turned upon one great principle, self-government – and self-taxation, the criterion of self-government. Where the interests of two people united together under one Government, are different, each must have the power to protect its interests by the organization of the Government, or they cannot be free. The interests of Great Britain and of the Colonies were different and antagonistic. Great Britain was desirous of carrying out the policy of all nations towards their Colonies, of making them tributary to her wealth and power. She had vast and complicated relations with the whole world. Her policy towards her North American Colonies was to identify them with her in all these complicated relations; and to make them bear, in common with the rest of the Empire, the full burden of her obligations and necessities. She had a vast public debt; she had an European policy and an Asiatic policy, which had occasioned the accumulation of her public debt; and which kept her in continual wars. The North American Colonies saw their interests, political and commercial, sacrificed by such a policy. Their interests required that they should not be identified with the burdens and wars of the mother country. They had been settled under charters, which gave them self-government; at least so far as their property was concerned. They had taxed themselves, and had never been taxed by the Government of Great Britain. To make them a part of a consolidated Empire, the Parliament of Great Britain determined to assume the power of legislating for the Colonies in all cases whatsoever. Our ancestors resisted the pretension. They refused to be a part of the consolidated Government of Great Britain.
The Southern States now stand exactly in the same position towards the Northern States that the Colonies did towards Great Britain. The Northern States, having the majority in Congress, claim the same power of omnipotence in legislation as the British Parliament. "The General Welfare," is the only limit to the legislation of either; and the majority in Congress, as in the British Parliament, are the sole judges of the expediency of the legislation this "General Welfare" requires. Thus, the Government of the United States has become a consolidated Government; and the people of the Southern States are compelled to meet the very despotism their fathers threw off in the Revolution of 1776.
Joe Hoft writes:
Based on current delegate counts and poll numbers Ted Cruz will be mathematically unable to reach the delegate count required for him to win the Republican Presidential nomination.