Reform of federation ‘no easy task’

Professor AJ Brown has put the spotlight on the Prime Minister's plans for federal reform.
Professor AJ Brown has put the spotlight on the Prime Minister's plans for federal reform.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott must take a realistic approach to reform of Australia’s federation, Professor A J Brown has toldthe annual conference of the Local Government Association of Queensland today (Tuesday).

In his address ‘Reform of the Australian Federation: Devolving without Delusion’, Professor Brown used results of the most recently published Australian Constitutional Values Survey (October 2014) to respond to the Prime Minister’s weekend speech in Tenterfield.

TAwebAt an event to commemorate Sir Henry Parkes, founding father of Australia’s federation, Mr Abbott called for cooperation in the relationship between federal and state levels and discussed “better harmonising revenue and spending responsibilities”.

Professor Brown, from Griffith’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, supports the reform process but says the latest Australian Constitutional Values Survey confirms reform will be “no easy task”.

“Appetite for meaningful reform exists among Australia’s public, but devolving control and tax revenues to the States will not work if local and regional communities — urban and rural — continue to feel their State government is not doing the job,” Professor Brown said.

“Mr Abbott must factor in many complex issues, not least the greater levels of trust for local government among Australian citizens, compared with state and federal levels.”

“After the aborted debate over federal constitutional recognition of local government last year, we must be asking — what roles should be guaranteed to government at the local and regional levels in Australia, and what share of the tax take should they be getting?

“Local perceptions of State government under-performance have long been the greatest trigger for federal intervention in affairs that should belong to lower orders of government — so unless reforms deal with this problem, it is hard to see how they will stick.”

Professor Brown’s keynote address to the 118th LGAQ Annual Conference tookplace at Mackay Convention Centre, Queensland.