Ronald Reagan, one of America’s greatest presidents, has foresightedly warned of the situation in which the United States, Australia and much of the Anglosphere find themselves today.
“Freedom,” he said, “is always one generation away from extinction. We did not pass it on to our children through the bloodstream.
“It has to be fought, protected and passed on so that they do the same, or one day we’ll spend our late years telling our kids and our kids’ kids what it was like in the United States where men were free.”
Much of the great success of the English-speaking world stems from its continued commitment to constitutionalism.
This acted on the basis of the eternal truth, succinctly formulated by the great historian Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Former US President James Maddison said earlier: “If humans were angels, there would be no need for government.”
History is always relevant to understanding what is happening today. Therefore, we must remember that the British themselves rebelled when James II tried to establish an absolute monarchy similar to the French one under Louis XIV.
But after that Glorious Revolution of 1688, the British never worried about any document called the “Constitution”, especially one like the American one, which was always more difficult to change than any other piece of legislation.
Lord Bolingbroke, a controversial British politician who influenced not only Voltaire but also John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, gave an excellent definition of the constitution.
In his words in modern English, this meant that “by the constitution we mean the collection of laws, customs and institutions, which the people agreed to be guided by.”
His description covers not only the document, which in the United States and other English-speaking countries is called the “constitution”.
It covers other documents, such as the constitutions of the states in the federations and those documents that are foundational. This, as Churchill said, “… is the third major title deed on which the freedoms of the English-speaking people are based.”
This is not only relevant, but also very important for the UK, Australia and the entire Commonwealth.
There are other founding documents in Australia, the Balfour Declaration of 1926, the Westminster Statute of 1936, and the Australia Act 1986, which together gradually and mercifully eliminated the remnants of colonial control.
It is curious that a similar experience in Canada is called “repatriation” of the Constitution.
Bolingbroke not only opens our eyes to many constitutional sources, but also highlights the important point that in the English-speaking world of the Anglosphere, the constitution also establishes the way people have agreed to rule.
This reflects the current view of the Australian High Court that the people are sovereign, although judges then diligently avoid putting this principle into practice.
When a constitution was drawn up uniting the six Australian colonies into one nation, its founders borrowed heavily from the American constitution.
So, in the Australian High Court, they copied the US Supreme Court, ignoring the danger that this could lead to the Constitution being what the judge says about it.
This is precisely the Australian problem. A constitutional change must be approved by the people at both the national and federal levels (that is, in most states).
And over the years, people have been asked to vote on nine topics more than once. Some of them voted five times.
But every time people said no.
The sad fact is that in each of these, concerning the granting of additional powers to Canberra, the Australian capital, the High Court refused to take into account the views of the people clearly expressed in these referendums.
Instead, much of this power has been delegated to Canberra through constitutional interpretation by the High Court.
Although the Australian constitution appears to be more decentralized and more US-based than the Canadian one, as a result, the Commonwealth of Australia is probably the most lopsided federation in the world, dominated by an all-powerful federal government.
With the connivance of the judiciary, more than 80 percent of tax dollars goes to Canberra, which then controls the states through conditional grants.
Canberra is now interfering in affairs that were never intended for them under the Constitution. Given the limited capacity of professional politicians, this means that some federal powers are being misused.
As in several other countries today, this is compounded by the dominance of professional politicians in an essentially bipartisan system.
Political trainees go straight from universities to the offices of politicians, sometimes referred to as “advisers”.
There they learn the art of conspiracy and manipulation and, all too often, the need to be loyal to the powerful broker who lobbies government contracts and whoever controls the primaries.
Thus, elections become fabricated, especially in safe places where candidates from the main parties were not chosen for merit, but rather for their loyalty to some influential player.
In government, such politicians are more often than not opportunists rather than statesmen preoccupied with principles and national interests. Hence, a serious decline in the quality of public administration.
More recently, the onset of the Wuhan pandemic has been described as a show of strength for the federation.
The first thing to understand is that much of the apparent success in the fight against the pandemic does not come from politicians, who have made serious mistakes in judgment anyway.
This is because Australia, like New Zealand, is a remote island nation.
This is why, during World War II, the Japanese emperors were unable to organize a dangerous invasion, except that they dropped more bombs on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. Australia was then, as it is now, a remote island nation.
At first glance, states acted almost like separate countries during the pandemic, imposing Beijing-style restrictions, authoritarian rule, closing borders and acting without normal parliamentary oversight, without audit through the vice-royal executive councils, and even without federal government intervention through the courts.
This transition of the country to authoritarianism was a joint operation between the federal and state governments, with Canberra lavishly using taxpayer funds and incurring huge debts, directly or indirectly providing state guarantees.
More and more mainstream political parties are difficult to distinguish from each other. Hence the resurgence of alternative parties, especially United Australia, which ran a major advertising campaign, and United Nation.
But the question remains, will they be able to restore constitutional governance after the 2022 federal elections?
From Australia, Ronald Reagan’s prophetic warning applies especially to America today. But this applies equally to Australia.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.