Recently John Quiggin’s blog hosted a guest post from me and I wanted to put a follow up post here largely because it may attract the attention of some readers of this blog who didn’t see my post or contribute to it when it was on John’s blog. In the next iteration I might see if Catallaxy or another right of centre blog will post the revision that comes out of this exercise. Or perhaps someone can suggest somewhere else to post it as I expect there’s a fair bit of overlap between the three blogs I’ve mentioned. It’s a kind of ‘open source’ policy development.
The issue I want to raise is that while lots of fuss is being made of the Coalition having control of the two houses of Federal Parliament much less practical attention has been given to the ALP’s domination of all State Parliaments. I’m not seeking to raise this in a partisan way (ie what the left of centre party can do to respond to a triumph elsewhere by the right of centre party.) It just seems to me that the alignment of state governments presents opportunities that shouldn’t be passed up. Where will the work in which you’re being invited to participate end up? I’m not sure. At the very least in some column in the Courier Mail. But perhaps more can be done. A meatier essay perhaps, a conference? Any other ideas?
Sometimes I think this is a rather glib assertion for what are the big opportunities it produces? It turns out that if we confine ourselves to what the pundits gloatingly call ‘political reality’, the list isn’t too spectacular. Still it seems to me worth pressing on. We should at least come up with a list of what’s possible for discussion. Whether it gets any further is then mostly up to others.
Here is a list of the things that I’ve suggested together with contributions by others on John Quiggin’s blog:
1. An agreement not to poach business off each other with state industry assistance.
2. Harmonisation of various state government systems to make life easier for businesses that cross borders and people moving interstate.
3. States even have a collective interest in preventing cost shifting onto the Federal Government since this is ultimately at the expense of their own constituents (when one considers the States’ position collectively).
4. Pooling of resources. For instance states could establish policy bureaucracies which focus on specific policy issues that are concentrated between states. They do this to some extent with some states taking the lead in ‘template’ legislation with their bureaucracies specialising within ministerial councils.
5. Agree to introduce death duties (Yikes!) and use the money to fund reductions in other taxes.
6. Observa wrote “Interestingly enough I thought I caught the end of a news spot this morning that the Howard Govt was considering issuing a ‘report card’ on the States as to their levels of spending on hospitals and health. Presumably this could extend to all sorts of report cards on things like literacy, school retention rates, crime statistics, child care palces and nursing home beds, etc. Given that the Feds raise most of the taxes, and the States spend it, would this sort report carding be any different if we had a Federal Labor Govt now. My hunch is no.“ As it was pointed out in a later post, the Feds and the States do this to some extent but in a fairly weak kneed way with the annual ‘Report on Government Services’ serviced by committees of bureaucrats with the PC as secretariat.
7. Guido suggested that states could collectively try to achieve more rational fiscal policy settings particularly by rehabilitating the idea of borrowing to invest in infrastructure.
8. Johng – “There is lots of good the States could have done on law, order & prisons but have chosen instead to be reactionary. They could have done something substantial together about greenhouse, but have chosen only to establish a talking shop. They could have done something about dental health.”
9. Stephen Bartos: – “If we did have a willingness to change things among State/Territory governments (and despite my comments above, maybe it will happen some day, we can try to be optimistic) my list would include:
“¢ common health records that can be transferred easily between jurisdictions
“¢ uniform, clear, simple and well explained basic planning rules modified for local exceptions (eg special climatic, heritage or community interest grounds) via a transparent process
“¢ more consistency in OHS, food safety, etc. regulation (in fact, more uniformity in regulation overall would be a good thing)
“¢ consistent rules on schooling eg when children can start school (currently different in the various jurisdictions try moving interstate with a 4-5 year old to see how irritating this can be)
“¢ No fault compensation. Under the present system lawyers are major beneficiaries from compensation cases. The system produces large losses in welfare, often slow redress for injuries suffered, and inequities (those who can afford the best lawyers get the best payouts; some miss out altogether). Its been a desirable change for a long time (see eg the Woodhouse report). Coordinated action by the States/Territories is needed because otherwise there’d be jurisdictional problems, claimants trying to game the system by picking the one that suited them best, problems with accidents/injuries involving parties from more than one State, etc.
10. Ken Parish (this was not commenting on the Quiggin website and was not apropos of the idea of a more general approach I’ve proposed in fact it prompted this post) Why don’t the state and territory Labor governments band together and enact co-ordinated legislation to abolish lawyers’ immunity from suit? You wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the Howard government to enact similar laws, but 90% or so of litigation takes place under state law anyway. It would put pressure on Howard, and would be bound to be highly popular with the electorate. Write to your local State or Territory MP today and demand it.
11. Since this august list assembled itself I’ve thought of one more quite exciting idea. I’ve always been amazed that governments generally have not taken more interest in open source software. I’m surprised, for instance that state education departments don’t fit out their computers with Linux, and open source applications like open office which are comparable with Microsoft Office costs nothing and comes with its source code so that it can be customised. I imagine the reason state government bureaucrats and pollies like Microsoft is that, apart from the odd trip to the opera and the Grand Prix etc they think its important for students to learn applications that employers use. (There are two responses to this.
a) It might make sense for them to be able to do ‘finishing classes’ in Word and Excel before going to job interviews but the core skill being taught is not particular to the program. Most students could learn Microsoft apps quickly from their basic knowledge of similar programs.
b). open source products should be permitted to replicate Microsoft’s design sufficiently well so that the skills can be ported from the open source package to the Microsoft package. Imagine that an access regime on a monopoly software product. In any event, I expect there are plenty of common IP and IT resources that state governments could collectively produce under some mutual open source agreement. (but this is part of a much larger subject for me the way in which modern technologies revive the importance of the idea of public goods.)
So that’s the list so far Troppees and Troppoids all.
Any other ideas, about areas of policy, specific policy ideas or means for taking the agenda forward or anything else?