If there has ever been a worse contribution to Australian federalism than this decision by the Howard government to provide special funding to a hospital in Tasmania (naturally located in a marginal electorate) I don’t recall it. I say this as someone who has repeatedly called for the Commonwealth to take over hospitals.
Interfering in the funding for one hospital is worse than useless, and the transparent political opportunism of this decision makes it worse still. Why not have the Federal Health Minister review waiting lists, and push swinging voters up the queue?
This is part of a pattern with the Howard government, in which it funds or mandates politically appealing extras while leaving the states with the responsibility for providing the basics. We’ve seen this in schools (chaplains, values education, compulsory history and so on), TAFE (the Commonwealth’s new colleges) the Murray (where the states are still stuck with managing land use), Aboriginal communities and a whole host of other areas. The result is even more duplication and waste than we had before. Howard is now more centralist than Whitlam, who at least encouraged the states to join his efforts.
I’m beginning to think that maybe some of this should be done in reverse. Perhaps Queensland should turn its police force into an army, and start invading other countries, or top up old age pensions. And maybe local councils should get in the act as well. Then we’d always have a choice of three governments to deal with whatever problem we faced. Why accept duplication when we could have triplication instead?