Sunday, February 18, 2007

arguments that don't hold water

"Merde," Morris Iemma might've thought to himself on reading Ken's post at Surfdom after the televised debate on Friday night (which I didn't get to watch). It's curious that Iemma might lose Labor votes because of his water policy, but on the other hand the conservative Miranda Devine comes out swinging at Debnam.
While I can see Ken's point, I'll still vote for Iemma. A win for Debnam would be ecstatically claimed by Howard as a defacto win for WorkChoices, in the same way that conservative journalist Imre Salusinszky interpreted a potential Iemma win as a defacto loss for WorkChoices. So I hope the water issue doesn't lose too many 'lefties'.
The only comforting thing about the possibility of a 'Premier Debnam' is that if the checks and balances/counterbalance theory works, then if NSW voters switched to Debnam, you'd expect them to be more likely to dump Howard.(Maybe this is why Howard has seemed so lukewarm about Debnam lately, despite early indications that he would be invading state politics to help liberate voters from Labor.) I guess if a vote for Debnam ultimately translates to a vote for Rudd, that's okay with me...
Contrary to the counterbalance theory though, voters might actually find it a relief to see the states able to work co-operatively with federal government, rather than be competitive adversaries as the Liberals have characterised the relationship between the states and Canberra. So it's not inconceivable that Rudd could get in despite the supposed liability of there being so many Labor-run states. Or rather, because of it.
The Liberal Party probably doesn't even care if it wins state elections anymore--far easier for Canberra to just appropriate state powers instead. Peter Costello was interviewed in The Weekend Australian ("Public wants us in charge: Costello"; story is not available online). He claimed that "The public sees the commonwealth as a more competent administrator than the states...People take the view that because the commonwealth is more competent, it should involve itself in more areas, and you can understand that." He offers not a skerrick of evidence in support of there being such a 'public view'. Cynical voters might even suspect the federal Liberals would not be quite so desperate to wrest power from the states if the state premiers happened to be Liberal. Truth is, the Liberal Party does care about the states, but it can't show it, and so it has no choice but to press on with Plan B (the power pushes).
Costello's argument is that the states should be demoted to having only a role of "service delivery" rather than any executive role. The Australian describes this as the Liberals' "twin federalism push" (water and health) but we all know of at least one more push that's looming large: education. The paper's editorial even laments that Howard is not more aggressive on that one. But Howard's just biding his time, lining up all his ducks.
Ultimately, it's one thing to want to make federalism work more efficiently (Rudd's pitch), but the fact remains that if voters really wanted Liberals holding state powers then they wouldn't have repeatedly elected Labor premiers.

Updated:- After hearing about John Howard today announcing more funds for schools maintenance, I have to think that he is likely to shelve any attempt at big ideological reforms in education until after the election. If he wins, he will argue he is mandated to implement the grander (and more disturbing) reforms at any time of his choosing, because he has already staked out his position during the campaign the Liberals and the conservative media have been running these past few years. But this year, well, he has more than enough Grand Ideas to defend already.
Obviously Howard has been listening to his focus groups and has belatedly realised that parents do care about education, but that they have more pressing, practical concerns than obsessing about whether or not teachers are Communists.