Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Living in a post-modern government world

I was going to add this material as a footnote to Monday Forum - reforming the Australian Federation but decided instead to bring it up as a new post.

I have been working my through the first Reform of the Federation issues paper, A Federation for Our Future. Perhaps it's because I'm tired, but it is a most eye-glazing document, a sort of post modern government period piece.

Is that fair? I said I was tired. But consider this. It takes the existing constitution as a given. It's dominated by questions of economics and economic efficiency, focusing on questions of service delivery. It confuses issues, throwing in constraints on spend and what Governments can do. As a consequence of all these things, the immediate debate generated is on the GST.

Can the existing Federal system be made to work more better? Of course it can. To ask how to do that is a fair question. However, the discussion paper points to the central problem here. All the discussion on this topic and the various initiatives that have been proposed such as cooperative federalism fail because the Commonwealth controls and the states respond.

The Abbott Government is no different here. If you look at it's track record, it is much into control, some would say more so, than its predecessors. To the degree that the problem lies with the Commonwealth, then the solution rests with the Commonwealth. It can change its behaviour.

On the state side, the states can control their responses. All a state has to do is to say we are not going to accept this level of control. We will go without. We will plot our own course.

The paper is quite good at charting the political dynamics that make either path difficult. It doesn't offer real solutions.

In his responses to the discussion, Mr Abbott has said that he is now a pragmatist on the Federation. By this, he means simply that he no longer has a philosophical position at other than the most generalist level. Perhaps I am misquoting him. I stand to be corrected.

It is worthwhile having a conversation on the Australian Federation. Our system has actually proved reasonably flexible, but it can be improved. A conversation dominated by posturing around the GST is not, actually, a conversation. Everybody is trading set pieces, set positions. That is boring and not especially useful. So let us actually talk.        


Anonymous said...

Off topic I guess, but I immediately thought of you Jim, when I read this article.


Hope it doesn't spoil your day to have such a complete affirmation of what you've been banging on about for years :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Saw the story, kvd. I have been banging on about it for years. Some (not all) of that load, of course, is a private sector response to Gov regulation and reporting.

Evan said...

It's such a big question I have trouble thinking about it.

I'm not necessarily in favour of either centralism or localism. I think rigidity and inflexibility can occur in very centralised or very localised organisations.

Perhaps the discussion needs to be about representation and responsiveness.

Anonymous said...

Evan is right - except he's responding to the plain English meaning of "reforming the Australian Federation", whereas the underlying meaning of such is probably (as both Winton and the Anons immediately said) "GST needs to increase".

My take is that I'd like the GST to increase (because I actually like 'forced, consumer-based' taxes as opposed to legalistic 'income' taxes; plus I'd like to see Aborigines recognised in our constitution; plus (a very small thing) I'd like to see term limits on all MP's - local, state and federal, but especially local and federal.

In only that, I think Parkes was right in lauding the USA. Their President can only serve 2 terms - 8 years - max. Some of them grow in the job, some diminish; ours seem to think it a job for life - and some even hand it down through generations. I read the anti-monarchists' arguments: what do they actually think will replace our present system, other than more of what we already have?