By competing, each state strengthens the whole. If an innovation in one state doesn't work, it stays there and doesn't damage the rest. If it does work, it spreads and makes the rest stronger. A paper commissioned by former premier Steve Bracks for the Council for the Australian Federation described Australia as a ship with eight separate watertight compartments: "When a leak is sprung in one compartment, the cargo stowed there may be damaged, but the other compartments remain dry and keep the ship afloat", it said....
But until now no Australian government has seriously countenanced the proposition that the environment was a matter solely for the states. Even the Gillard government, which experimented with devolution in an effort to counter "green tape", gave up after it realised state governments wouldn't impose the same high standards as the Commonwealth.
Now the Abbott government is legislating for what it calls a "one-stop shop". Billed as a "major step forward in the government's commitment to reduce red tape" the law would devolve responsibility for environmental approvals to "the most appropriate level of government".
Abbott and Hunt believe the appropriate level is state government, and if it chooses to delegate, local government, raising the spectre of at least eight "one-stop shops", each with different approval processes and none of them necessarily inclined to protect the national environment.