As leaders met in Canberra this morning for the Council of Australian Governments gabfest, the Prime Minister announced John Brumby will replace Paul McClintock as chair of the COAG Reform Council, the body charged with reporting on and driving COAG’s reform agenda.

It’s a shabby, jobs-for-the-boys appointment from a government that has been better than most when it comes to putting people of merit into positions regardless of partisan background.

Based on his performance as premier, Brumby shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the one mechanism associated with COAG that actually does the job of driving reform.

Brumby was a key impediment to the Rudd government’s efforts to save the lower reaches of the Murray-Darling in 2008, with his stubborn commitment to protecting Victoria’s outrageous, anti-competitive caps on water trading, caps explicitly designed to prevent water from being moved to where it can be used most efficiently. To this day, Brumby’s iniquitous legacy continues to blight the water market.

Brumby also manufactured a fight in 2010 over Kevin Rudd’s hospital funding reforms as a distraction from his own political problems in Victoria, going to the National Press Club in Canberra to parade as the leader of state resistance against the reform proposals.

Nor is Brumby’s record on economic reform too flash. In 2008, he announced a local preference deal for Victorian government procurement that breached the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement and committed Victorian taxpayers to paying up to 10% more than they should have in heavy manufacturing procurement. Brumby as premier also refused the reveal the huge subsidies being paid to Alcoa to run its Victorian aluminium smelters.

And it was Brumby who prepared the recent report into dumping (that is, selling goods cheaply to consumers and businesses) that recommended a new bureaucracy to more aggressively implement the pseudo-protectionist policy of anti-dumping.

In short, with his record of parochialism and protectionism, Brumby is pretty much the last person you’d want overseeing the one independent mechanism capable of holding governments to account on their foot-dragging and recalcitrance over economic reform. Perhaps Brumby will undergo an ideological transformation once he takes over the role?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey