Comments on Cheryl Saunders "Let the Constitution and democratic principle guide us to renew federalism", 13/07/2015
We need to approach the reforming of the Australian federation in a practical and effective way and there is no need to make or describe the current problems unduly harder or unnecessarily complex than they need to be.
Many of the real and perceived problems in the Australian federation have its origin of the relatively large fiscal imbalance between the federal and state and territory governments as a whole. To make the federation work better, therefore, should focus on this key issue. There is no need to change the constitution in any substantial way, given that the constitution has adequate provisions (alternatively the absent in prohibiting a change to the fiscal imbalance) to deal with most issues the federation faces including the revenue realignment.
Correcting the vertical fiscal imbalance by allowing the states and territories a sharing of some taxes such as the income tax to a reasonable degree so that the vertical fiscal imbalance is largely resolved, will suffice for the reform of the federation. All other issues remain in the proper domains of the federation's constituents including both the federal and State and Territory governments.
The paper will benefit from making this point clearer than the current form. It is also advisable to those who have prepared the issues paper and the discussion paper: don't make the reform unnecessarily difficult than it should be and take a simple and realistic approach.
Don't overdo it and don't introduce unnecessary details to distract from that main task.
The Australian federation is not broken, but a further reform of it by addressing the vertical fiscal imbalance will make it work better. And that will benefit all the governments through better accountability and effectiveness and as a result, all Australians will benefit from such a simple yet effective reform.
Bureaucrats have a tendency to make and are used to making things more complicated than they are. And this should be avoided in the processes of reforming the Australian federation. Political leaders should display the required leadership including disallowing bureaucrats' unnecessary complexity.
Why is it called a draft discussion paper? It is an indication of an immature bureaucratic approach and the tendency to avoid accountability of actions and results.
If you cannot make it a discussion paper, just say it!