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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 22 November 2007) . . Page.. 3763 ..

The Howard government’s approach to commonwealth-state relations has been adversary, paternalistic and at times uncooperative. Opportunistic blame shifting, ad hoc interventions and coercive funding arrangements have resulted in a dysfunctional federation. In short, the conservative Howard regime has, over time, morphed into the most centrist and most controlling commonwealth government in the history of our federal system. Moreover, it is a form of centrism that is random, populist and based on nothing more than the whim of the moment, or the temperature of a marginal seat.

Look at the attempted, and as yet unachieved, takeover of the Mersey hospital in Tasmania—a move that has cut across that state’s attempts to plan for the provision of health services rationally and based on evidence and need. Look at the emergency response to child abuse in the Northern Territory, which has reportedly, after some months, failed to result in the charging of a single offender. Federal Labor, by contrast, is committed to a much-needed reform of federal-state relations, and a model of cooperative federalism. If Labor is elected this weekend, we will see the beginning of the end of the blame game in vital areas of service delivery, enabling the states and territories to get on with delivering better services to their citizens rather than fending off repeated attacks and threats to funding.

Improvements to commonwealth-state relations are a crucial element in federal Labor’s election platform. Labor’s 10-point federation reform program is aimed squarely at delivering better services and enhanced economic performance through improving the way our federation works. Through a partnership approach with states and territories, a Rudd Labor government will seek consensus on national goals and establish consistent forward planning in areas such as infrastructure, housing, education and training, water and hospitals.

For the ACT, the election of a Rudd Labor federal government will signal the commencement of a new era of cooperation and collaboration. The opportunity to engage collectively and collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will enable Australian governments at all levels to work together to address the problems of child and substance abuse and to improve health and education outcomes.

The states and territories have shown a great willingness to work together on key areas of national reform through the Council of Australian Governments, and some progress has been made. However, we welcome the prospect of putting an end to the years of direct conflict, stalled negotiations and blame shifting over housing affordability, mental health, disability services and public housing.

Federal Labor has indicated its support for implementing recommendations contained in the federal parliament’s report on the role of the National Capital Authority, which could see a refocusing of the NCA on key areas of national significance, such as the parliamentary triangle. While on most matters the NCA and ACT planning authorities work cordially and productively, the current overlap between the NCA and the ACT Planning and Land Authority sometimes results in confusion and conflict, to the detriment of integrated and consistent planning outcomes for the territory.

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