Letter to the Editor, Australian Financial Review, 1 August 2005
Greg Craven's passing reference to the H R Nicholls Society (29 July 05) seems to imply that we are a group of centralists who seek to impose labour market reform through Commonwealth fiat at the expense of the sovereignty of the States. Although the Society does not pass resolutions for this or that strategy of reform, my understanding of the sentiment of the membership is that we are as federalist as Greg Craven in our view of how our constitution should be interpreted, and how best Australia's future as a growing and prosperous economy can be assured.
The problem we have with Section 51:xxxv, the Industrial Relations power, is that it gives power to the Commonwealth to regulate the labour market, but not to liberate that market. If we could have our d'ruthers, we'd prefer to see the Commonwealth abandon the use of Sec. 51:xxxv, as Stanley Bruce proposed in 1929, and let the States compete with each other in providing effective labour market regulation (or freedom) as opportunity or political fashion afforded. As in the US, where such competition has led to major shifts of industry and population, there is no doubt that all Australians would benefit mightily from such a dispersal of regulatory power.
Regrettably, we have a Prime Minister and a Treasurer who are strong centralists, and a cabinet in which the number of federalists can be easily accommodated on the fingers of one hand. As the current debate about labour market reform unfolds, and in particular as the debate moves to the High Court, where the degree to which that court will accept the use of the corporations power to enable the Commonwealth to regulate the labour market will be put to the test, we hope that the fundamental need for swingeing labour market reform will not be forgotten---the overriding imperative of building a globally competitive economy, in which no-one, however disadvantaged, will be locked out of the labour market by the condescending arrogance of the contemporary heirs of Henry Bournes Higgins.
H R Nicholls Society