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The Australian Institute for Progress recently launched their first monograph, Covid-19 and Australian Federalism, authored by Dr Brendan Markey-Towler. The Good Sauce was invited to cover the launch with Economist Gene Tunny speaking to the monograph.

This monograph was commissioned as part of the Australian Institute for Progress’ goals to advance discussion, development and implementation of public policy for Australia’s future and the discussion of federalism the AIP has taken interest in.

Gene Tunny described Dr Brendan Markey-Towler’s view in his monograph as being similar to the Premier’s Plan from 1931 during the Great Depression. In that time it was the state premiers who came together to agree on a deflationary economic policy.

As Dr Brendan Markey-Towler wrote:

“Despite interstate border closures contributing to some ugly episodes of state jingoism, it was a superior approach to a single policy imposed from Canberra by the national government.”

The monograph contrasts the more rational, sensible, measured approach from the New South Wales government to the draconian, cruel, knee jerk responses other governments, particularly the Victorian government.

One large difference that Gene Tunny drew from the contrast of the NSW and Victorian governments was that the person charge of the governmental response in NSW wasn’t a chief health officer but the health minister whereas in Victoria it was the chief health officer.

This dichotomy was where Tunny saw the most significant contrast. The monograph using this dichotomy brought federalism into the discussion as opposed to centralised government in the commonwealth government.

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The author explained that federalism at the initial founding of Australia under the constitution, with the intent of the founders, left states to have significantly more power than the Commonwealth. It was only in the 1920 court case when Robert Menzies prosecuted a case for an engineers union against the Adelaide steamship company and other employers that the scope of the Commonwealth government expanded as the High court read the constitution literally without taking the intent of the founders into perspective.

Tunny noted that Markey-Towler is very good at bringing historical detail of the expansion of the Commonwealth government over the 20th Century, such as taking over taxation power during the Second World War. Drawing from the writing of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Charles Tiebout and Elinor Ostrom, Tunny believes Markey-Towler brings a strong argument for federalism over centralised government using the example of the covid-19 period. 

As a former federal bureaucrat Tunny disagrees with Markey-Towler’s belief that a strong, centralised government would have had more oversight by both opposing political parties and the media which would have led to less cruel and arbitrary responses – unlike what we saw in Victoria where the Dan Andrews government saw very little pushback and oversight.

Tunny believes that the Commonwealth government actually enabled individual states’ economically disastrous policies by picking up the bill at the commonwealth level.

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Chris Lawrie is a conservative Christian who spent many years with the Family First Party running as a candidate, helping run campaigns in both Queensland and Tasmania, and on the Queensland State Executive. He also has a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Chris is part of the Good Sauce team.

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