The Coalition Government has a new slogan. “Trust Us, We’re from Canberra” is now the basis for a growing move towards weakening the role of states in the federal system. The latest move towards centralisation is the suggestion that a national board of studies be set up to control a uniform curriculum throughout the nation’s schools.

Behind this attempt to dictate from Canberra is an apparent belief that state education bureaucrats have hijacked school curricula and distorted them with what Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is reported as calling “Chairman Mao” type ideologies. “Ideologues … have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability,” Ms Bishop tells a meeting of the History Teachers Association of Australia today. “We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators.”

Ms Bishop’s call for a federal takeover follows criticism of state governments by Treasurer Peter Costello, the establishment of a federal water resources office under Parliamentary Secretary Malcolm Turnbull and even a suggestion by Health Minister Tony Abbott that Canberra takes over the administration of public hospitals.

The Liberal and National parties have come a long way from their federalist roots probably because after a decade in power they are beginning to feel invincible while continuing failure to win state and territory elections makes them despair of ever being able to change things at a state level. They might well be right on both counts but the danger is surely that Labor, the traditional party of centralism, will relish a future opportunity to take over a centralised system of government.

Before sacking eight state and federal curriculum bodies, for example, a prudent conservative might contemplate what those very Maoist supporting ideologues that are flourishing under state Labor Governments will be able to do when they take over the politicised Federal bureaucracy that will be one legacy of this Coalition Government.

Peter Fray

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