Time for bipartisan commitment to federal reform

Professor AJ Brown

Recent chaos over federal tax proposals and state complaints over funding reinforce the need for a stronger consensus approach to Federation reform, according to the first Australian Constitutional Values Survey of federal and state politicians.

Results from the Future of Australia’s Federation (Parliamentarians) Survey, conducted by a Griffith University-led team over the last quarter of 2015, reveal:

  • 75% support among federal parliamentarian respondents, and 60% among state and territory politicians, for structural reform of the Federation – with 59% or more support all political parties at both levels of government;
  • Strongest consensus on the need to reform the financial relationships of the Federation (rated very or extremely important by 88% of federal and 91% of state politicians); and
  • The most consistent support across levels and parties for giving ‘guaranteed shares of federally-collected taxes’ to state and local government– the wash-up result from Prime Minister Turnbull’s income tax sharing plan two weeks ago.
  • See the results of the Future of Australia’s Federation Survey 2015

Project leader, Professor A J Brown of Griffith’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, said the results show the Prime Minister’s tax plan was ‘more than just a random thought bubble, and actually represented a genuine option’.

‘More importantly, these results confirm that where that plan ended up is both logical, and historic, in terms of locking in ongoing federal government commitment to the reform discussion.’

‘With Labor MPs supporting federal reform just as, or more strongly than the Coalition, at state and federal level, the question becomes whether both sides of politics will commit to a stronger, ongoing federation reform process – irrespective of who wins the 2016 election,’ Professor Brown said.

Conference

The survey reports the views of 201 sitting MPs across all parties, and all federal, State and Territory parliaments.  It parallels related surveys including the nationwide Australian Constitutional Values Survey, last conducted in 2014 and due to be fielded again in coming months.

Results from both surveys will be profiled at the important pre-election conference, A People’s Federation for the 21st Century?’, being held in Brisbane on 16-17 June.

Other key results:

  • 46% support among federal parliamentarian respondents, and 17% among state politicians, for abolishing the states in 20 years (as against 25% of adult citizens polled in 2014)
  • 56% support among federal parliamentarian respondents, and 33% among state politicians, for having regional government in addition to or in place of state or local government
  • Stronger support among Coalition than Labor parliamentarians for the principle that it is better for decisions to be made at the lowest competent level of government, than higher levels
  • Stronger support among Labor than Coalition for the principle that money should be transferred from richer parts of Australia to poorer parts to ensure similar public services.

Data release: www.griffith.edu.au/federalism
June conference: www.griffith.edu.au/sir-samuel-griffith-legacy-series