Sensible federalism vs aspirational nationalism

I’ve been thoroughly underwhelmed by the undeclared election campaign over the last couple of months. Labor has been moving towards the kind of small target strategy that performed so well in 2001. Meanwhile, Howard’s complete conversion to pork-barrel politics has now acquired the label “aspirational nationalism”, which is appropriate enough given that the term “aspirational” appears to mean “a shallow person with no ethical values who splashes money about without any clear sense of priorities”.

So I’m pleased to see Rudd taking a step back towards sensible policy with his proposal for a complete Federal takeover of the public hospital sector to be implemented if co-operative Federalism fails to produce an agreed national reform plan. Unlike Howard’s various ad hoc grabs for power, this would actually lead to a more sensible alignment of political power and responsibilty.

26 thoughts on “Sensible federalism vs aspirational nationalism

  1. I am not sure I agree with the move for a Federal takeover. Isn’t there value in maintaining competition between the states in the provision of public hospital and indeed other things such as school services?

    But certainly a takeover makes more sense than a state-run system with ad hoc Federal interventions based on pork-barrelling. The move in Bradden seems particularly ill-advised given that two other hospitals provide comparable services in this sparsely-popuilated region anyway.

  2. When you thought the funding of Devonport hospital was perhaps ‘Federalism at it’s worst’, I did say Howard might have been a bit of a guru, when I said-

    “Although initially Howard’s foray into the Devonport hospital may look like marginal pork barrelling, we might have to consider the move was a calculated on to test the waters of a major shift in health policy. Only last year the SA Health Minister Lea Stevens (albeit a pretty useless Minister who has been replaced now), threw up her hands at the problems of health and offered to hand the lot over to the Feds. Given the mishmash of overlapping jurisdictional issues, aged care and hospital care in particular, perhaps that set the Feds thinking. Is the offer to the Devonport Community a forerunner of things to come? Basically the Feds are seriously testing the water here, because they must have known that their offer would see many more communities lining up for a slice of the action as they are now.”

    Perhaps I judged Lea Stevens a bit too too harshly and she was really the original guru in all of this.

  3. Observa – Howard was no guru in Davenport- he was pork barrelling as he has done ever since.

    For instance in the electorate of Kingston he promised a new expressway although what the city of Onkaparinga needs, according to the Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg, is a decent public transport system in the form of a railway.

    However the problem with the pork barrel is that it is rancid from the start as it requires the State government to adopt a scheme which is definitely not carbon neutral ie there are real problems before it is even discussed so it is likely to fail after the election.

    The Federal takeover of the public hospital system would mean that the Federal government would be more inclined to deal with the prblems of the Aged Care system as the costs of Aged Care facilities could no longer be subsidised by the state. It would also mean that the GP system would become more valuable as it would save costs at the hospital level instead of shifting costs. Thus costs would be increased for the GP and Aged Care systems – however these should be more than matched by the savings at the hospital level. And if we are looking at outcomes it should be far better for those requiring the medical and aged care systems.

  4. Would the States lose their GST revenue that is currently used to fund the State Health systems? Would this lead to a reduction in the rate of GST?

    Why do we have to wait so long for the system to continue to fail before they act?

  5. hc asked – “Isn’t there value in maintaining competition between the states in the provision of public hospital and indeed other things such as school services?”

    Competition? What competition? It’s not as if people travel between States to get their health care and education needs met. There isn’t any competition!

  6. First I have to say congratulations to Professor Quiggin. You’re too modest to say so but this is the partial adoption of your own proposal as official policy. The earliest reference I can find to it on your blog is at

    but I am sure you have talked about it earlier and probably in a bit more detail. The idea made plenty of sense in 2004 and makes just as much sense today. Why it hasn’t been Labor policy for years is beyond me. Perhaps Howard’s Federal intervention in a Tasmanian hospital has made the idea such a no-brainer that even the policy cowards in Federal Labor have finally seen the light.

    Its good policy and good politics. I only wish that Labor had adopted it earlier.

  7. Not denying the problems of overlap and buckpassing between jurisdictions Jill, but Howard offers to fund one poorly funded State hospital and that’s pork barrelling, but Rudd promises to fund 750 hospitals ‘or else’ and that’s not. What, Johnny wasn’t ‘metoo’ enough for you?

  8. Oh and stuff the mayor of Onkaparinga! let’s have a plebiscite on the train or the road eh?

  9. Razor, I don’t think it is that sort of competition. It is just that some states do better at providing services than others and other states might try or reject new ideas. One can clearly see that Western Australia has failed with its ‘outcome based education’ approach for example. Queensland has always had a good reputation for school education (and is doing well with Uni Qld) and these good ideas can rub off.

    The centralist approach is to pick a system that seems to work well and apply it uniformly. The risk is that pollies make this choice and may get it wrong. I prefer diversity and choices by imitation or rejection.

    I am not as knowledgeable about hospital administration – but with respect to education I definitely prefer diversity.

  10. Yes hc, Bracks vilification laws are a classic example of hair-brained policy that no other State wants to touch nowadays. Imagining those laws being foisted on us nationally is a horrible thought.

  11. “but Howard offers to fund one poorly funded State hospital and that’s pork barrelling, but Rudd promises to fund 750 hospitals ‘or else’ and that’s not.” – observa

    That’s about right. One is ad hoc opportunism. 750 is a systematic approach to a problem, especially given that it strives to achieve a negotiated solution before any takeover.

  12. Michael, Its great if Rudd gets it right. Otherwise it is a uniformly consistent mistake.

    But pollies always get it right, don’t they? Just think of John Dawkins.

  13. Observa, since ‘pork barrel’ is a ‘political metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for projects that are intended primarily to benefit particular constituents or campaign contributors’ I don’t think the takeover of all public hospitals qualifies. It might help your comprehension of this point to focus on the word ‘particular’…

  14. If they take over public hospitals then hopefully it will be followed soon afterwards with privatisation.

    Oh goodie, then we could all be poorer and sicker, at the same time!

  15. The current government, seen in the light, for example, of the Minister’s performance in the Haneef case with the characteristic blame shifting and failure to accept responsibility struck me as shallow too. Such shallowness is not limited to their spending priorities.

    There seems to me there are problems related to the training of doctors and dentists, and other medical professionals, arising from HEC fees that the Federal Government might give mind to. It might be just me, and I allow for the fact that not all Australians are Anglo-Saxon, but I did not see too Australian doctors at the hospital I was at recently. My surgeon was a New Zealander, and his associates were respectively an African and a Chinese female doctors.

  16. I think Labor has wedged the Libs on federalism, very subtley and astutuely. They’ve forced the Libs into making the first moves and forced them into acts of monstrous, cynical, and brazen hypocrisy. Then Labor can move right in (after the election) and really clean up on a lot of (probably rightly) long held federalist goals. And look like cooperative nation builders in the process. Those Labor states are good for something!

  17. “the term “aspirationalâ€? appears to mean “a shallow person with no ethical values who splashes money about without any clear sense of prioritiesâ€?.”

    I thought Australians were always aspirational, so I didn’t understand at first what Howard meant when he said he appealed to aspirational voters. Subsequently, I realized he meant “selfishly aspirational”.

  18. Chris, you are still being too generous. For Howard, aspirational is nothing more than a euphemism for greedy. Simple as that. Just like when he refers to Australians as courageous, he means fearful; when he talks about openness and tolerance he means hostility to anyone but white, nominally Christian and Anglo-Celtic folk; if ever he talks about a vision for the future, it’s about him remaining PM for the rest of his natural life.

    Remember that in the more than two decades Howard spent in Parliament before 1996, his only great political success was in campaigning against passage of the 1988 bicentennial referendums that would have given recognition to local government, extended rights to fair compensation for compulsorily acquired property, and removed obsolete provisions from the Constitution – all on the spurious grounds that this would interfere with States’ rights.

  19. In the standard ALP scenario, when playing the political game there is always an us and a them. There are the workers and the bosses, who are forever entrenched in their roles. There are the blue-collars and the white-collars; the little people and the big people. Mr Keating and his family may sit on half the boards in half the companies on the ASX but he always remembers to refer most disparagingly to Howard’s various reforms as aiding the “Big End Of Town” etc etc. Thus is Labor rhetoric, even when spoken from plush boardrooms overlooking Sydney Harbour.

    What Howard realised was that the perennial ALP voters were not the dolts that the ALP took them for; they had …aspirations! Funny huh that these dopes were so selfish as to believe they should not be lorded over by the ALP union heavies (‘you are so weak and unintelligent that you could never make it without us”). Funny too, that after seeing Mr Hawke on his multi-million dollar yachts etc and Mr Keating whooping it up with $10,000 clocks in his ultra-swank Woollahra digs (ironical how he chose to move into the Epicentre of Jewish Society despite “representing” the most Muslim of all electorates; Bankstown) these fools got other aspirations like
    “Why don’t I get a little Tinny to get around in” or “Why doesn’t my family have the right to a decent house, even if it’s only a (shudder) MCMANSION?” and then, worst of all “Why don’t I start a business?”. How far above your station in life can you get Quigginites?

    The problem with this is that once they landed the loot, these poor sods lost all faith in “If we don’t stick together and take $16.42 an hour via the Arbitration Commission we’ll be roooooooned”. How stupid. Fancy aspiring to get Union Thugs like ….(well you know them… least a dozen have been Federal ALP Ministers!)off their backs and out of their pockets. Sheesh, how ungrateful can you get? Cheers.

  20. There’s sometimes more than a germ of truth in even the most foaming of rants eh, Mantaray!

  21. Mantaray, you’ve bought the bulldust. Whitlam made the ALP into a solidly middle-class party in the late 60s-early 70s, and the rage against his government’s dismissal was mostly carried by middle-class white-collar professionals. Hawke’s first cabinet has full of people who’s had a real life in the professions (including being union officials, because that’s no different than a mid-level management job). What sticks in the craw after a lengthy period in opposition (and this applies just as much to all the state Liberal oppositions as it does to federal Labour) is that the “big end of town” only wants to talk to governments, usually with a view to getting them to do something in legislation to make their monopolistic rent-seeking more profitable. It’s a convenient target. But Mantaray, you’re completely clueless about what the ALP is (hint: it’s a career, and a brand).

  22. No Peter, I have known, ever since Mr Whitlam created free university education to help my middle-class mates and I get even more quickly/cheaply to the top, that Labor had nothing to do with the “workers”. Even less to do with all things “non-material”.

    My spray was squarely aimed at those who DO think labor are the “good guys”, vastly different to the Libs (didn’t you notice me mocking the wealth obsessions/pretensions of Hawke and Keating?) and at those who snobbishly denounce the “aspirational voter” Can’t see where we disagree, really. Except….

    I suspect that quite a bit of the “big end” IS talking to federal Labor. Surely Mr Rudd’s missus isn’t STILL holding the strip-joint against him? Aren’t all the former ALP Ministers (and Prime Ministers) talking to them? Isn’t John Singleton still Labor through and through? Check out who’s been threatening to remove Malcolm Turnbull from his seat, this past week (or isnt a member of the Telstra board BIG enough, for ya?) and then give it a bit more thought. Cheers.

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