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The Commonwealth and WAConstitutionThe Carve UpCommonwealth Power and the States

Extract from interview with Dee Margetts, former Senator for Western Australia representing the Greens WA.

CF One of the complaints of the States is that the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly powerful, more powerful - you know it had special powers in the war it took away from the States. So would you believe in a smaller government, would you support State Government as opposed to the large Commonwealth Government?

MARGETTS: It's not necessarily been the case that it's been all in one direction if you think that environmental issues and planning issues have become much more important to communities. You've seen Commonwealth Governments and certainly conservative Commonwealth Governments devolving those powers, hand-balling most of those decisions to the States simply because environment isn't in the Constitution. They just lump it all under a land management element of the Constitution so issues of human rights, become State rights, issues of environment become land management issues and so on. And you've seen conservative governments hand-balling that more and more and taking no responsibility - getting out of those issues. Actually dismantling their own departments, dismantling their own legislative structures in many ways. An example I can use in Western Australia [is] where the Commonwealth Government claimed that the new environmental laws were going to give better protection to issues of national and international importance. Yet the State has just put through proposals to increase the salt works at Shark Bay. And what's happening? Nothing ...

CF How do you feel, then, about the Commonwealth in a sense devolving responsibility to an international arbiter because of its signing international treaties. The Commonwealth can bring in someone, an international representative, like what's happening in Darwin now?

MARGETTS: You can separate out the human rights issues with international courts of justice and so on and Aboriginal issues where similar sorts of things are happening. The International Labour Organisation is being sought for opinions in relation to issues of human rights in the workplace and a number of other areas where the Commonwealth is expressing outrage and other people are expressing outrage.

Yet the thing that's having the most impact on us is the World Trade Organisation, and there doesn't seem to be any outrage that you have this hugely powerful body which is much more powerful than the United Nations ever was or probably ever will be. And they have an enormous amount of sway. They don't have to go through proper processes like the United Nations. Australia can be made to change the way they go about things. I just find it extraordinary that there is this outrage or pretend outrage if you like in relation to treaties and some of them are fairly basic, fairly minimal what we've actually signed. But when it comes to one of the biggest treaties in recent times like the Uruguay Round of GATT and the set up of the World Trade Organisation there seems to be no real objection by those political groups.

Dee Margetts
[Battye Library, OH3013]


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