How to fix the Federation — including IR

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How to fix the Federation — including IR

A leading business organisation has called on the States to refer their workplace relations power to the Commonwealth in a major report aimed at modernising the Federation.

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A leading business organisation has called on the States to refer their workplace relations power to the Commonwealth in a major report aimed at modernising the Federation.

Australian Business priorities 2007: Fixing the Federation, launched today by NSW Business Chamber, highlights the fact that despite Australia's strong economic performance, the operation of the Australian Federation has become dysfunctional with blame-shifting and demarcation disputes between the Federal and State Governments harming Australia's capacity to grow and achieve.

It makes 10 major recommendations for reform including holding a Constitutional Convention in 2008, and for Federal, State and Territory Parliaments to have simultaneous elections and fixed four year terms.

Blame shifting

'Blame-shifting between all levels of government has become the third certainty of life - joining death and taxes', said Kevin MacDonald, CEO of NSW Business Chamber.

'Business is concerned that Australia's strong economic performance is masking the fact that the operation of the Australian Federation has become dysfunctional. Major debates in areas such as taxation, infrastructure, health, education and workplace relations have become demarcation disputes between the Federal and State Governments.'

MacDonald said 2008 marked only the third year since Federation that no Federal or State Elections are scheduled and provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue real reform.

Real opportunity

'The coming year provides a real opportunity to tackle some of the difficult issues facing Australia without the impending pressures of elections. That is why we are proposing that 2008 be recognised as the Year of the Federation and that a Constitutional Convention be held.

'We need an end to the unilateral Commonwealth incursions into State issues and also an end to State obstruction of Commonwealth goals.'

MacDonald said the increasing trend of political parties of all persuasions is to use election campaigns as an opportunity for blame-shifting or to postpone critical policy decisions.

Decisions put off

'In NSW alone, major decisions such as the NSW Government's privatisation program, reforms to the operation of Sydney Ferries and much needed OHS changes have all been put off until after the Federal election,' he said. 'At the same time, the Federal Government is making unilateral interventions into the policy domains of State Governments.

'Business is concerned that a climate has developed where interactions between the Commonwealth and the States have become subservient to the politics of the day, or are being dealt with through a complex, haphazard and undisciplined distribution of cash that inspires little confidence in the integrity of the process.'

Major recommendations

The major recommendations of Australian Business Priorities 2007: Fixing the Federation are:

  1. That 2008 be declared the 'Year of the Federation' with a Constitutional Convention held to identify ways of improving the performance of the Federation.
  2. Constitutional Convention to mark a formal end to unilateral Commonwealth incursions into State issues and an end to State obstruction of Commonwealth goals.
  3. The Constitutional Convention to determine which layer of government is responsible for vocational education and training.
  4. Fast-tracking of national consistency and standards for school education across Australia.
  5. Federal, State and Territory Parliaments to all have fixed four year terms - and for elections to be held on the same day every four years.
  6. Formal referral of workplace relations powers by the States to the Commonwealth.
  7. Federal, State and Territory Governments to develop nationally consistent and sensible Occupational Health and Safety laws.
  8. Productivity Commission to undertake an independent review of the GST distribution formula.
  9. The appointment of a Federal Minister for Infrastructure who will work with the States to develop a National Infrastructure Plan.
  10. The Federal, State and Territory Governments to develop an integrated policy framework and platform for climate change initiatives.

Full report

The full report can be found at the NSW Business Chamber website.

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