After the Prime Minister caved into the regressive cultural warriors in his party over the Safe School programme there was an understandable community concern, with much disappointment expressed via social media, and protests organised in support of the programme.
Yet with the Andrews Government stating that it will fund the programme, all is not lost, and in fact a great deal could be gained. For Victorians, anyway, initially.
With their support for the programme Andrews Government has sent the signal that LGBTIQ community will find Victoria a more welcoming, understanding and respectful place. This signal may potentially lead to more LGBTIQ people deciding to move to the state, which will then further increase the understanding of LGBTIQ issues in the state, and decrease the remaining suspicion towards people who identify as such. This would be a highly positive outcome.
However, the Premier is making a much broader move here with this initiative, one that could set in motion similar developments where other state governments insist on creating policy that is respectful of local sentiments and desires, even if it runs counter to the federal government’s beliefs. With enough momentum and pressure this could have the federal government returning greater powers to the states, from whence they came.
The Premier made a similar move when he declared that Victoria would take the 267 refugees that had come to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
This is not just a tactic to win votes within Melbourne’s inner-city, as a cynic might solely think, it is also a plan to differentiate Victoria as a state. In particular, this is a play to set Melbourne up as a more modern, inclusive, city than the other cities in the hope of attracting young, educated, creative and energetic people, both nationally and internationally.
With Sydney’s lockout laws greatly damaging its reputation with young people, this is a very smart move, and one of the great advantages of having a federal form of political organisation. Regional difference allows people to vote with their feet.
What Andrews is doing is making a case for “competitive federalism”. Unfortunately, as the term “competition” freaks out progressives, it becomes difficult to explain how the concept is greatly advantageous to progressive interests.
The modern narrative around “state’s rights” is dominated from the US, where it is seen as a conservative machination to maintain the death penalty and strict anti-abortion laws (amongst other issues).
Yet, of course, the opposite can be true as well, with greater state powers, Victoria, which has a more progressive culture than other states, could create policies more in line with its public sentiment.
Unfortunately, having “the good” dictated to from a central jurisdiction remains progressive dogma, despite centralised government seldom producing progressive outcomes, or at a glacial pace if it does.
Which is why these moves by Premier Andrews are both important and bold. A statement of intent from the Victorian government that Victorians can no longer acquiesce to top down directives from Canberra that run counter to their worldview.
With the Liberal Party not wishing to upset its regressive warriors for fear of a party split, the current lack of state powers makes each state far too beholden to these internal party machinations. The flexibility envisaged within a federal form of government is being hamstrung.
The Safe Schools fiasco would have never occurred in our political cousins Canada, as the country has no federal education ministry. Education is solely the purview of the provinces with no jurisdictional overlap with Ottawa. This gives each province the ability to create policy with its own unique local knowledge.
In Australia, Canberra trying to create policy that tries to take into account the divergent cultures of say, Collingwood and Townsville, is always going to create the excess politicking that we have just witnessed. Furthermore, there is a great desire for conformity implicit in any attempt to do so.
It will most likely take a politician from a progressive party, using progressive legislation like Safe Schools, to break the progressive fondness for centralised governance. If an impetus and momentum towards decentralisation is created here, this could be Andrews’s “Nixon in China” moment; having the political cover to make necessary changes your base has a knee-jerk reaction against.
While it is most unfortunate that the LGBTIQ individuals in other states won’t have the positive resources available to them as Victorians will (yet), Victoria will set into motion the wheels of social understanding and respect. Even if federal politicians are trying to slam on the brakes.
While the desire to implement a sensible policy across the country as a whole is understandable, progress always comes in a bottom up, evolutionary fashion, not a top down utopian one. Which is why if you are a progressive then you should desire a more decentralised version of government, where it has a greater chance to be the knowledgeable, responsive, accountable and effective institution you envisage. The Andrews Government seems intent on proving that this is case.