Transcript of ABC Radio National Breakfast

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Page: 1
Transcript
Station:
RADIO NATIONAL
Date:
22/04/2008
Program:
BREAKFAST
Time:
07:47 AM
Compere:
STEVE CANNANE
Summary ID:
C00030411244
Item:
DISCUSSION ON PROPOSED STRUCTURAL REFORM OF
FEDERAL-STATE RELATIONS, AS DEBATED AT THE 2020
SUMMIT.
INTERVIEWEES: DR AJ BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERALISM
PROJECT, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY
Demographics:
Male 16+
N/A
STEVE CANNANE:
Female 16+
N/A
All people
N/A
ABs
N/A
GBs
N/A
One of the themes out of the 2020 Summit was the
need for an overhaul of federal-state regulations.
And according to our next guest, this call to arms
has helped deliver a big victory for structural
reform of federal, state and local government
relations.
Dr AJ Brown is the director of the Federalism
Project at Griffith University, and he says the
proposed Federation Commission could finally
deliver Australia with a workable new federalism.
AJ Brown joins us from our Canberra studio this
morning.
AJ, thanks for talking to us.
DR AJ BROWN:
Morning, Steve.
Page: 2
STEVE CANNANE:
The call for a Federation Commission came from
the 2020 Summit over the weekend, particularly
from the economics working group.
What's your understanding of what it would do?
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, it'd be a really important part of a process,
which really could make a huge difference in
Australian history to fixing, not just in a small way
but in a large way, the real problems that do run and
have run for a long time with our federal system.
And if you - it's a very complex process. It's like a
lot of these big ideas; they are not necessarily brand
new, but the reason why they haven't been tackled
is because they are complex and they require really
hard work and it requires both a process, but it also
requires machinery.
And the Federation
Commission would be a key part, if not the key
part, of that machinery.
STEVE CANNANE:
Now, talk about a new federalism is nothing new,
but what will make it different this time round?
Will it be the stridency of business and the
economic agenda for seamless national market and
regulation?
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, I think one of the successes of the summit
was that the message came through in different
ways on the same issue from so many different
streams - from health, from rural, from economy.
And what our job was in the governance stream was
Page: 3
to deliver a process that would actually work, that
wouldn't just be a process for business and
economists, but be a process for the whole
community tying that all together.
So it is a factor of there being that level of support
and the fact that so many ordinary people, if you
like, who were part of the summit, who were
thinking outside the box, were so clear on that call.
So it really is a pretty unique opportunity, and one
of the crucial things that hasn't happened before is
that it's not just about federal-state relations, it's not
just about sort of tinkering with the way in which
those governments do business behind closed doors,
it's about all levels of governance being part of this
overhaul.
And it's about - it's the fact that's it's about finances
and structures and institutions and not just about,
you know, whether federal governments are doing
this or state governments are doing that, it's a much
more comprehensive approach.
STEVE CANNANE:
Now, AJ, I understand while the governance
stream, which you were a part of at the 2020
Summit, was struggling with this issue of a
mechanism to kind of enforce this new federalism,
the hard heads in the business group had come up
with a model.
Page: 4
Tell us about the cross-fertilisation that was going
on behind the scenes between those two groups.
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, there was a lot of cross-fertilisation between a
number of groups. We in the governance group
knew that the rural group were basically saying,
let's abolish the states. In the governance group, we
knew that the economy group was proceeding with
the Federation Council idea, which the Business
Council of Australia had previously already
articulated. So that's a case of an important idea
getting really good support from a much broader
forum.
But we always knew that there's no - there was no
ability to design in two days the system that we will
have in 2020. We may know that it needs to be
structurally different and to work in a whole lot of
different ways and to deal with a whole lot of
different issues and be, as Geoff Gallop, the former
WA Premier, said, a much more agile system of
government.
But we knew that what was more important than
trying to dream up what the system would look like
was a process that will just get us the best system.
And there are a range of institutions that have been
suggested for that, and it will actually require a mix
of all of those - out of our stream, out of the
economy stream - putting together the best of those
things which are quite compatible.
Page: 5
And I think the Government and the nation - more
importantly the nation - will actually have a very
workable reform process.
STEVE CANNANE:
It seems really interesting to me, though, that the
hard heads of the business section seem to be able
to nut this thing out, and perhaps all the
constitutional lawyers and the like and people who
want change to the way we're governed can ride in
on the slipstream of the back of the business
reforms here.
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, that's one way of putting it. But I admit I
think it's true that the people in the economy stream
could be very hard headed and I think that was
extremely useful. But at the end of the day, there
was - the most important thing about this is that
there was no conflict between the ideas; there's
enormous complementarity between the ideas.
Lawyers and political scientists and people with
experience in government and community
deliberation and deliberative democracy and
participative governance, which were all the people
in the governance stream, were more focused on
what are the process - what are the principles and
what are the processes that the community can
engage in, all sectors of the community can engage
in to get the right result.
But it needs to have momentum and it needs to have
serious resources. And I think that's where,
Page: 6
amongst the architecture that was suggested, I think
the Federation Commission is a fundamental
breakthrough if it's established well.
STEVE CANNANE:
We're talking to Dr AJ Brown, the director of the
Federalism Project at Griffith University, and it's
seven minutes to eight o'clock.
AJ, do we have any idea how this Federation
Commission will be constituted? What's its brief,
what will be its brief if it does come in?
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, those are very crucial questions, and it's now
time for a lot of stakeholders, not just government,
but a lot of stakeholders to continue to put the meat
on the bones. It's very important that, as the
Business Council has proposed, it's not a body of
just government people talking to one another. It
needs to be broadly based; it needs to involve
people from business and the community; it needs
to be based on expertise and the best possible
people who understand government and know how
it works but can also stand outside government; and
it needs some serious research capacity, policy
capacity and capacity to engage in the community,
with the community in the design process; and it
also needs to be owned by all existing levels of
government who face, do face change and reform
through the process.
So it is a very significant design question how to set
up a body that will be able to achieve all those
Page: 7
things and also stay the distance politically. This
body will have to be composed in a way - I mean,
people will come and go from it, but it needs to be
composed in a way which survives state
governments changing from Labor back to Liberal
or Coalition; it needs to be able to survive changes
of government at the federal level.
There's going to be a lot of things that happen
before the design process is complete.
STEVE CANNANE:
And just briefly, AJ, the future of the states. In 10
years' time, will they simply wither away?
DR AJ BROWN:
Well, I don't think it's safe to assume that or say that
or even assume that that's necessarily desirable. It's
a bit like, you know, every major city and town in
this country pretty much is built on a river or a
harbour, and it's got numerous bridges over it, and
we depend on, currently depend on all of those
bridges. And the same is true with all our current
levels of government.
We may decide that we want to redesign the
system, but we can't just start shutting down one
bridge or another bridge without dealing with the
fact that we haven't actually redesigned the
infrastructure and got the new infrastructure ready
to roll yet.
So it's not as simple as simply saying we can get rid
of a level of government. But certainly the
Page: 8
objectives that people have when they say we've got
too much government, we need to get rid of a level,
we've got to simplify it, we've got to make local and
regional governance more stronger and more
democratic as part of this process as well as the
national reforms, all those objectives are the
objectives which have to drive this process.
STEVE CANNANE:
AJ, thanks a lot for talking to us this morning.
DR AJ BROWN:
Thanks, Steve.
STEVE CANNANE:
AJ Brown, director of the Federalism Project at
Griffith University.
*
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END
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