Australia’s states and territories could be powerful players when it comes to tackling some of 2017’s big issues, according to Griffith University expert Dr Tracey Arklay.

Dr Tracey Arklay

Dr Arklay was among a range of academics, public officials and community stakeholders who took part in Sir Samuel Griffith ‘State of the Federation’ series symposium in Melbourne last month.

She said states were responsible for many of the important policy decisions that affect Australians on a day-to-day basis – yet they are hamstrung by limited resources and dependency on the Commonwealth for funding.

“To date it has been the Commonwealth that has largely set the agenda and organised the times for meetings to discuss important ideas,” she said.

“Consider COAG, for example, which is where the Prime Minister and Premiers meet to consider big ideas, problems and attempt to work things out collaboratively.

“It sounds great – but again, the timing of these meetings are reliant on the preferences and priorities of the PM.”

The aim of the symposium’s round table discussion, held in conjunction with the Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, was to start a new conversation around the idea of states taking the lead on big issues and encouraging them to ask tough questions.

“If the Commonwealth isn’t prepared to tackle them, we believe the States have an opportunity to lead the conversation,” Dr Arklay said.

“We hope the round table is the beginning of this conversation around the important policies that effect us all – be it health, education or energy to name but a few.”

As part of the discussion, the results from the Australian Constitutional Values Survey 2017 were also presented, showing no improvement and – if anything – some further decline in public confidence in the federal system of government. However, Professor AJ Brown, who prepared the results, noted that against this there was possibly some slight improvement in the belief that collaboration between governments had improved since 2014, dependent on the sate.

The fifth event in the Sir Samuel Griffith ‘State of the Federation’ series also featured an open academic session and a special address from John Dinan, the editor of Publius: The Journal of Federalism, as well as the official launch of A People’s Federationpublished by Federation Press.