According to A. J. Brown and J. A. Bellamy (2007:3), federalism is a system of government where entities including provinces and states share power along with the national government. Many governments in the world function according to the basic principles of federalism. James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton in their federalist papers between 1787 and 1788 won the hearts of many Americans in approving a federal constitution. With federalism, the national government usually controls the elections while every state has control over its voting procedures and routines. While Federalism in Australia took root in 1901, the principles and maxims of Australian federalism are closely knitted to those of the United States of America’s model.
Australian federalism has evolved since its beginnings over a century ago into a system where the Commonwealth government is engaged in a wide range of policy areas that were once the sole responsibility of the States W. Hudson, A. J. Brown, (2004:19). Cooperative federalism has actually prompted the efforts of establishing new and potentially more efficient and effective modes of intergovernmental coordination. Federalism in Australia has continuously evolved over the years. This evolution reached the near-apex last year when the Australian Parliament passed the Murray Darling Basin Plan that covers fives states as well as the territory governments.
Past Challenges and Responses to Development
The Murray Darling River Basin has a population of more than two million people. It contains a host of Australia’s finest environmental sites and agricultural resources. It faces the challenge of creating great economic prosperity while preserving the environmental health of a uniquely variable water system (A. Sennett, E Chastain, S Farrell, T Gole, J Randhawa & C Zhang, 2012:2). All the successive governments and policy makers in Australia since adoption of federalism have concentrated their efforts in trying to champion the use of agriculture in enhancing development around the river. However the overlapping basin lands in the territories of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria under the control of their States have continuously led to over-allocation of water resources following several institutional frameworks in the 20th century.
This overlap is attributed to by the challenges of interpreting and implementation of federal policies among States that share national resources. Just like in many other countries where individual States have their own laws, a challenge may arise where these laws are not consistent with those of other States thus resulting in conflicts and political rows. In Australia, for instance, the central government controls the resources used in development of the Murray Darling Basin. However, distribution of and use of these resources by the individual States has consistently proved to be a challenge because different States have overriding and sometimes contradicting goals along the Basin.
For more than 50,000 years the indigenous people of Australia have relied on the Murray Darling Basin to supply their water, food and other financial needs. However, absence of regulation over the years led to overexploitation of resources along the Basin. T.N. Srinivasan & J. Wallack, (2006:141). This problem was solved in 1863 by British settlers but it has culminated with the independent Federal Government of Australia. This was mainly as a result of the plenary legislative power held by States over management of water resources including management of the Basin (A. Sennett, E Chastain, S Farrell, T Gole, J Randhawa & C Zhang, 2012:3). While the commonwealth retains some of the influence over policy making through its power to offer conditional funding to the states and territories, it interferes with the rights of these States created through their independent governance systems. Australian legal experts thus advise that there should be joint consultations between all the States and the government in creation of laws, interpretation and implementation in order to avoid overlap and conflict.
Federalism has been seen as the perfect solution to the continued bureaucracies; particularly in unitary governments with a dictatorial regime. This has been the case in Australia where the Murray Darling Basin was a huge success up to the end of World War II. With an adequate allocation provided to each State, cash crops and cereals among the Basin thrived. Water entitlements were also free, directed by the intention of promoting development of the irrigated production. Have pollution and salinity problems escalated in the region in the 1960s. In response to these problems, the States jointly amended RMWA in order to allow the River Murray Commission to give consideration to the water management objectives. These included the water quality, planning and operation the work. This coordinated effort has proved to be quite a huge success along the Basin but only to a limited extent accentuated by different States’ varying water management schemes that could no longer tackle the water quality problem at hand.