In December 2009, well into a protracted debate on the need for harmonising occupational health safety regulations, Access Economics prepared an impact statement calculating the economic benefit of bringing state systems into line. About $180 million annually, it found …

Go through the raft of COAG-driven reforms sitting on the desks of ministers — from harmonising liability for company directors, national systems for electronic conveyancing and licensing of tradespeople to a host of state-based transport regulation — and you’ll find hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to governments, business and consumers all over the place. This isn’t exactly big-ticket reform. In fact, it’s pretty dry stuff, it doesn’t win votes, but it’s where government rubber is supposed to hit the road — cutting red tape, freeing up small business in particular, creating jobs, lowering consumer costs. The benefits take a while to accrue and they’re diffused throughout the economy, but they wind up being substantial. It’s been studied, it’s been costed, it’s been largely drafted, it’s ready for a rubber stamp.

It’s (relatively) easy money.

Yet the list of excuses from state governments for not legislating the necessary changes runs as long as the economic reforms on the table. Deadlines have been flouted as states play politics (note those single-state firms that will collectively lose out) or just can’t organise themselves well enough to play at all. Not that it stops them whinging when revenues dry up.

Julia Gillard declared 2011 her year of decision and delivery, a pledge Labor lived up to with moderate success. Perhaps in 2012 state governments should do the same.

canberra-calling.jpg Listen to yesterday’s Canberra Calling podcast! Also, head over to our iTunes page where you can download and subscribe to the latest Crikey podcasts …

Peter Fray

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