Should education, as the Coalition believes, be centralised, with a national curriculum set by Canberra? Should healthcare, as Tony Abbott and the PM now seem to believe, be managed by the Federal Government? Or should the states have the autonomy to administer systems nominally under their control?

At a time when Teams Howard and Rudd can be almost indistinguishable on a range of policy areas, the nature of the Federal-State relationship is — refreshingly — an area of marked difference.


John Howard, March 2005:

If we were starting Australia all over again, I wouldn’t support having the existing state structure. I would actually support having a national government, and perhaps a series of regional governments having the power of, say, the Brisbane City Council (Australia’s most powerful local government).

John Howard, April 2005:

…[T]he desire to have a more national system of industrial relations is driven by our wish that as many businesses and employees as possible have the freedom, flexibility and individual choice which is characteristic of the Liberal Party’s workplace relations philosophy. This can only be achieved by removing the dead weight of Labor’s highly-regulated State industrial relations systems. The goal is to free the individual, not to trample on the States.

John Howard, in response to the discussion paper released by the Labor Party on the use of federal payments to the states:

You can interpret in no other way an intention by the Labor Party to loosen the controls over the spending of federal money by states … than a retreat by the national government … I’m not arguing that we should run everything, but the idea that we should retreat, that we should have a lesser policy influence in 2007 is just so out of touch with what the public wants.

John Howard, Youtube:

The Australian people are not especially concerned about theories of governance when it comes to the delivery of basic services such as health and education. They want good outcomes and are not particularly fussed about which level of government delivers those outcomes. Overwhelmingly, they want more rather than less Commonwealth involvement especially where a state government has not delivered an adequate service.


From The Case for Cooperative Federalism, a speech by Kevin Rudd to the Don Dunstan Foundation, 14 July 2005.

There is no secret to the fact that for many decades, there has been a strong tradition in Labor political thought that when political circumstances permitted, the States should be abolished. Personally, I’ve never shared that tradition as I have long been a committed Federalist – albeit a Federalist with a difference, one committed to using the Federal compact on a co-operative basis to deliver national outcomes that are politically sustainable well beyond a change in the political complexion of the government of the day. I’ve never been attracted to a doctrine of Federalism based on chanting the mindless mantra of States’ rights.

The challenge for a future Labor government will be to rebuild the Federation. And it is my argument that the Federation can be rebuilt based on the principles of co-operative (rather the coercive) Federalism.

From A Framework to Guide the Future Development of Specific Purpose Payments (SPPs), a discussion paper released on Tuesday by Bob McMullen, Shadow Minister for Federal/State Relations.

For those areas where it is agreed that shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States should continue, the aim should be to identify and agree on the respective roles of each level of government. Collaborative federalism should then be founded on a partnership between the Commonwealth and the States, where there is proper consultation on program objectives and information demands. The States would then have considerable discretion and more flexibility as to how they achieve those objectives, having regard to their particular local circumstances.

Kevin Rudd, 31st September:

What I want is a set of arrangements between Canberra and the states that we can fix things like housing affordability, fix things like health and hospitals, and fix things like the division of responsibilities within schools.

Kevin Rudd, speech to the Business Council of Australia, 1 February, 2007:

One, we need cleaner lines of responsibility. Two, we need more cooperation and less of the blame game. Three, we need to improve fiscal arrangements. I’ve made reform of the Federation a central priority because many of Australia’s biggest policy challenges involve the intersection of Federal and State government responsibilities. Like:

    • Getting rid of waste and duplication in the health system.
    • Achieving better education outcomes at pre-school, school, TAFE and apprenticeship levels.
    • Building world class transport infrastructure.