Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
parliament house.gif
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
South Australian Links
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Victoria, reform, federalism « Previous | |Next »
July 31, 2007

I've left writing about the change of personnel in the Labor Government in Victoria with the retirement of Steve Bracks until now since more is involved than a change in Premier and deputy Premier. This quiet moment in the very busy Qantas Lounge at Canberra Airport before I fly back to Adelaide gives me the chance to make a comment against the backdrop of a two day AHCRA conference on health reform.

The Bracks' Government adopted a commonsense, inclusive approach that laid the ghosts of Labor maladministration to rest and kept the state on a steady course. In the absence of a national Bill of Rights Bracks enacted the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. After winning control of the upper house at last, Bracks gave that control away by reforming the council to have it elected by proportional representation. This is such a contrast to the Rann Government in SA, which dislikes the power of the Legislative Council and seeks to constrain it.

More significantly, Victoria was the policy workhorse of the nation with its National Reform Agenda, which was eventually taken up by CoAG. Hence we have an example of co-operative federalism, though little progress has been made on health care and education reform. That means Victoria has had a good state government. The Brumby Government's agenda does not include climate change.

Will Victoria continue to drive the unfinished reform business of CoAG under a Brumby Government? Will they use this leverage to reform state federal relations so as to give the states more autonomy in the use of federal funding? Will they use the co-operative federalism leverage to sort out some of the dual state and commonwealth responsibilities in health care and so break with the blame game that is such a common feature of federal political life? These are important questions as AHCRA has identified the inefficient allocation of resources caused by the current State/ Commonwealth funding structure as a core problem that needs to be addressed to ensure in health care.

The Howard Government's standard mantra is that the state governments are incompetent in providing basic services, and it talks in terms of conflict and war, the national Government solving problems and the takeover of state responsibilities. In contrast, Rudd is proposing to overhaul commonwealth-state relations, to do an audit of crossover areas and to eliminate duplication between the two tiers of government by giving states complete control of some areas and the commonwealth complete control over others.

So if Rudd is in lockstep with the Federal Government on national security, the logging of Tasmania's old-growth forests and the need for intervention on indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory, then he is different on federal-state relations. As an editorial in the Canberra Times points out:

As Prime Minister John Howard embarks on his coercive push for the Commonwealth to assume responsibilities for the Murray-Darling Basin and to implement a national schools-based curriculum, Rudd has revealed details of a Labor proposal to implement a more cooperative brand of federalism, one that seeks an end to the perpetual squabbling between governments over the division of administrative functions and the flow of taxpayer funding. Rudd has pledged that a Labor Government would conduct an audit of administrative functions where there is a federal/state crossover, with the aim of cutting the number of shared functions. In line with giving the states and territories complete control for the provision of certain services, Labor will reduce the number and amount of Commonwealth specific purpose payments, which amount to around $30 billion annually, in favour of untied grants.

Labor argues that these reforms will put a stop to the "blame game" and end the cost-shifting that has increasingly characterised the delivery of government services, especially health care. Rudd argues that that Labor's model of cooperative federalism can reduce the waste and duplication and economic distortions inherent in the system and boost national productivity by enhancing common markets and removing the barriers to people and business operating across state borders.

Will Rudd's proposal end the "blame game" between the two levels of government, particularly in health and education? It depends on the division of roles and responsibilities. Bob McMullan, Labor's shadow minister for federal-state relations, says the Commonwealth would retain primary responsibility for economic management, the capacity to deal with international obligations and the responsibility to "redistribute resources to meet socio-economic and spatial inequalities within and between the states", but that other functions would be decided according to a mix of negotiated goals. Flexibility would be the benchmark in their implementation, and parties would need to agree on mechanisms of accountability.

Sounds enticing doesn't it, especially in relation to health care. Will it happen if and when the ALP regains the commonwealth levers of power?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:09 PM | | Comments (2)


there is no chance that a Rudd Labor Government will surrender its power over the states. If Rudd is elected--and he has a chance---we will have Rudd centralism instead of Howard centralism.

Spot the difference.

Hard to. Up to now they both agree on commonwealth interventions in the Murray-Darling Basin, indigenous affairs and industrial relations.