Taxation Without Representation? Not in Canberra

April 29, 2021 | By eric.terzuolo | Filed in: Australia, DC Statehood.

“Taxation Without Representation” is on my DC license plates. Of course I feel I deserve voting representation in the House and Senate. But deserving and having are different things, and I’ve been skeptical about investing too much political energy in the very difficult campaign for DC statehood. But the pathetic arguments against DC statehood at the March 22 Congressional hearing were truly infuriating. Political and racial considerations actually drive opposition to DC statehood. Covering that up with spurious arguments, e.g. the alleged absence of car dealerships in the District, is not okay. Having taught comparative politics at one point, I know that in other federal countries like Australia, Germany, Brazil, and Mexico, residents of the capital cities have far more political rights than the residents of the US capital.

Canberra beats DC

“No taxation without representation” prevails in Australia. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which includes the capital city Canberra, is one of two self-governing “territories” that are part of Australia’s federation. (There are six larger “states” such as New South Wales and Queensland.) The ACT was intentionally situated between the two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne. It has a population of over 430,000 (roughly 1.7% of the total Australian population). Much smaller in absolute terms than DC’s almost 690,000 residents, although DC represents only about 0.2% of the total population of the US. (According to the 2020 census, two states have significantly smaller populations than DC: Wyoming with almost 577,000 residents and Vermont with just over 643,000.) As is typical in capital districts worldwide, a lot of people in Canberra work for the government..

Canberra -- Australia's Capital

The Australian Capital Territory has a total of five seats in the federal legislature: three in the House (out of 151) and two in the Senate (out of 76). The ACT’s House representation (2% of the seats) is basically in line with its share of the total population, while its Senate representation (2.6%) arguably gives it a slight overrepresentation relative to population. Each territory has two senators and each state has 12. Some units have more senators relative to population than others. (In the US we know all about that.)

Though federal government still has a say

In other respects, the ACT is not so dramatically different from DC. It has been self-governing since 1989. Before that time, it was governed directly by the federal government. It has a 17-member legislative assembly and an executive branch headed by a “chief minister.” Federal grants are an important source of revenue, and ACT legislation is subject to a federal government veto. (In DC, legislation passed by the City Council requires Congressional approval and judges are appointed by the President.)

Australia shows that full representation in the national legislature can coexist with constraints on self-government of a federal capital territory. This example, from a mature democracy which is also arguably historically the closest ally of the United States, is worth keeping in mind.


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *