State Paternalism

Public Finances

“The idea of state paternalism is embedded in our relationship with government, and has been since the time our convict forefathers expected Governor Phillip to fix the small problem of starvation rather than do anything about it themselves. We have expected governments to intervene to create equality. The very way funding is divided up among the states is based on a premise that everyone in Australia, no matter where they live, is entitled to a similar level of government services. More than the other pillars, it is an implicit idea, buried in policy and politics – not explicitly stated in the way that the commitment to a working wage or to the ANZUS alliance have been.

“Perhaps for this reason, state paternalism has never been dismantled, or even identified and exposed to analysis, in the way the other parts of the settlement were. The capacity of governments to intervene on our behalf, to protect us, was obviously reduced by the dismantling of the ’80s and ’90s, yet we have largely ploughed on, expecting governments to act as they did in a world where they had many levers of economic control, which have now disappeared.

“And in the failure to break down the habits of state paternalism we have the seends of much of our modern national anger. We have had many arguments about the explicity policies. We have had debates about deregulating particular industries, and about the need for small government and less taxation. But we have never debated what the implications of deregulation and a smaller state might be for our expectations of government itself. Do we Australians understand the government no longer has the control of things it once did? Do we understand that the corollary of less tax is less ability to fund services? Are we comfortable and relaxed with that idea? What will we put in its place?”

Laura Tingle, In Search of Good Government: Great Expectations & Political Amnesia (Carlton, VIC: Black, Inc, 2017), pp.39-40. ISBN: 9781863959285.

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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