May 1, 2014

Shepherd’s old federalism the only new feature in Commission of Audit

ANALYSIS: The Commission of Audit's recommendations for cost-savings are unsurprising -- and mean. The poor, homeless, old and disadvantaged all come in for cuts, while the rich keep on keeping on.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Most of the National Commission of Audit’s proposals are unsurprising from a review team run by the Business Council of Australia: low-income earners, foreign aid recipients, students, carers, Newstart recipients, public servants and, eventually, future generations of pensioners, are all targeted. Challenged by The Australian’s David Crowe at his press conference on why the burden of his recommendations fell on low- and middle-income earners, commission chairman Tony Shepherd struggled to identify recommendations that would harm high-income earners.

And in a sort of grace note of malice, homelessness is proposed to be abandoned entirely as an issue of Commonwealth interest, while the review carefully proposes that savings from the paid parental leave levy be directed to funding nannies.

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9 thoughts on “Shepherd’s old federalism the only new feature in Commission of Audit

  1. Gregson Jeremy

    The idea of competitive federalism seems to assume the population is free to move (at negligible cost) from state to state in response to government service levels. That’s such a massively wrong idea that I have to wonder – do they acknowledge it is a problem to be overcome, or just ignore it?

  2. Graeski

    The same tired old targets, the same tired old strategies. The only ones that don’t seem to have been targetted yet are single mothers – still, the budget’s not due for another couple of weeks, so who knows?

    What needs to be recognised is that the time of expansionary capitalism is coming to an end. The world is very much a finite place again.

    For millenia, stable human societies effectively limited the greed of the wealthy because they were closed systems. There may have been a huge gulf of inequality between the nobles and serfs but at the end of the day, the nobles needed the serfs to grow food and do the menial labour without which they (the nobles) could not survive so that, even though they could grab a very large part of the pie for themselves, they couldn’t afford to grab it all.

    Beginning with the imperial expansion of European powers into new continents three centuries ago, the idea of infinite individual wealth took hold, together with a philosophy of individualism that countries such as the US are still trying to retain. Two centuries ago, if you were pillaging the virgin natural resource wealth of the North or South Americas, Australia or Africa then it all did seem endless. As our own national anthem says, “For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share” (except if you’re a refugee in a boat, presumably).

    The trouble is that this sort of social model of wealth is inherently unstable, unless you can keep on adding new continents for plundering. Problem is, we’ve pretty much run out of those.

    Unfortunately, conservative political parties both here and overseas are still trying to hang on to the idea of infinite accumulation of wealth. As a result, they keep on shooting at the same old targets, because confronted by limited resourcing the only other option is to take more from the poor.

    We don’t need socialism: that’s been tried and failed. We do need to find some way of putting the brakes on the endlessly greedy though – one that doesn’t involve bashing the weak.

    And before anyone accuses me of it, I’m not advocating a return to serfdom.

  3. Sam Spackman

    Who in their right mind would want to give ‘more’ money and power to the Newmans, Napthines and Ranns of the world!

  4. Liam Smith

    So dodge a bullet and hand it all over to the States, along with the funding they’re crying out for??

    Cool – So we can expect to drop Federal government’s salaries because they aren’t doing as much any more? Whats that? No? Oh… Right…

    So each State is going to go and do it’s own thing again? Wasn’t the whole purpose of federation and the productivity gains of the 80’s and 90’s to unify how things are done in Australia for health and education?

    How about it goes the other way and we excise the State governments? Federal at a local level. Whole reduction in management, overheads, corruption and policitian’s bullshit.

  5. Tyger Tyger

    Graeski @2: Well said. The question is how to re-balance individual freedoms with the environmental, resource-finite reality. And it’s not just a problem for conservatives. Most “Labour”-based Social Democratic parties support the idea of endless growth also, the difference being they want a relatively fairer distribution of the wealth thus garnered. Whoever gets the cash, both approaches are equally unsustainable.

  6. Jackson Harding

    The whole Commission of Audit ignores one of the most fundmental principles of government and politics. Politicians, and the mandarins that implement their policies, measure their own self worth and importance almost entirely by the size of their trainset. Any effort to reduce the size of the Commonwealth public service and the span of services will be be met with trenchant and trucculent opposition by Canberra’ legion of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s.

    The states will react differently. They have resisted passing parts of their empires to the Commonwealth for years, for exactly the same reason – no dimunition of train sets is allowed, even if we can’t afford it all. The bigger states (NSW, Vic and probably Qld) will jump at the chance to expand their empires. SA, Tas and the territories will baulk, while it would be nice to have more toys to play with they understand all too well that they can barely afford what they have at present and the increase in revenue on offer won’t compensate them enough as they don’t have the economies of scale to do so. The Great Western Quarry is a special case, it probably can afford it and so will be inclined to accept it, unless they actually do realize over there that once the last ship sails for China they’ll be poor as church mice again.

    Message to Antonius Imperator: the word you are looking for is spelt O-N-C-E-R

  7. CML

    I am amused by the assertion of a few commentators here, that all will be well if we just abolish the states and let the federal government run the show.
    The question is: How do you propose to do this? My understanding of what happened in 1901, is that the States formed the Commonwealth, NOT the other way around. I don’t think the commonwealth has the power to ‘remove’ the states, but if the states all decided to abandon (secede) from the commonwealth, it would cease to exist!
    Be very careful what you wish for!!

  8. MJPC

    [email protected]; You have covered it succinctly. The GFC I believe was the catalyst to the poor and middle classes in the developed world that greed is not good (for most).
    Those in the US particularly took a hit with the subprime market. I believe this has led to a stink about the right side of politics (although in Australia the body politic believed the lies of the Abbott roadshow). Alas, there needs to be something harsher for social conscience to achieve fairness and equity and show the big end of town for what it is.

  9. Jackson Harding

    @CML Abolishing the States would take a referendum to introduce a radiclly different Constitution, with large rewrites of multiple sections required.

    Not sure what would happen in those states that voted no, assuming we got a majority of voters in a majority of states.

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