The former Queensland premier Peter Beattie has joined the growing list of people in high places who agree state governments should be abolished.
For the size of its population, Australia is over governed.
The states exist for historical reasons, but the duplication of services they provide which are also the domain of the federal government often means money is passed from one department to the next, eventually ending up at the front line. Health is a perfect example.
Mr Beattie said yesterday that larger regional councils could be the beginning of a new structure of government for Australia. He also said one of the reasons he left state politics was because he thought the future of state governments was “dim”. That is hardly a rousing endorsement of their purpose.
Under the two-government model, the federal government would take charge of services such as health, education and transport, while local government would take care of bread-and-butter issues such as roads, rubbish and water.
Passing funding from one tier of government to the next must surely erode its value by the time it gets to where it is needed. Also, federal governments seem to provide the lion’s share of funds these days for major projects or to the states for distribution.
The redevelopment of the Tamworth hospital, the construction of the North West Cancer Centre at Tamworth, the upgrade to Chaffey Dam and the establishment of the Tamworth Sports Dome are all examples where federal funding has outstripped state contributions.
Streamlining our system of government will never be easy but that does not place it beyond reach.
One of the first steps is constitutional recognition of local government which is currently on the agenda. A Joint Standing Committee on the Constitutional Recognition of Local Government is to assess the impact of financial recognition of local, state and territory governments and the likelihood of success of a future referendum.
Australian voters, however, do not have a history of supporting referendum questions, but that should not deter having a serious rethink about who governs what.