Maybe it’s time for Labor and Julia Gillard to start thinking about their legacy rather than retaining government.((Note the supposedly incompetent Whitlam government’s enduring legacy: – ending conscription and getting out of Vietnam, recognition of China, legal aid, Medicare, no fault divorce and the Family Court, Federal Court, administrative law merits review system, abolition of tertiary education fees. ~KP))
They won’t of course, because hope springs eternal. But if they did, what reforms should Labor introduce that would produce lasting positive change? Here’s my list:
- Restore to the States and Territories the ability to levy income tax by way of a surcharge collected centrally by the ATO but whose amount would be determined by each State. This was recommended by Ken Henry in his tax review but ignored by everyone. I think it’s the central reform of Australia’s governance. Restoring this power would be conditional on the States agreeing to abolish stamp duty (which currently collects approximately $12 billion in total for the States) and contributing 25% of the estimated $8 billion annual cost of the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme.((I note that Ross Gittins and Tim Colebatch both agree with my assessment of the Gillard government’s current dubious position on the NDIS. ~KP)) My rough estimate is that a State income tax surcharge of around 3% for a person on average income would be adequate to meet those conditions. How much more any given State would choose to levy would depend on its government’s assessment of the optimal mix of low tax and excellent infrastructure and services.((Although implementing this policy would certainly be a big immediate electoral negative for Labor, the objective reality is that it’s hard to conceive of a more propitious time to introduce it, as Stephen Koukoulas demonstrates here and here. It simply requires Labor to accept that it isn’t going to win and concentrate on doing what is right rather than populist. ~ KP))
- Implement the Finkelstein review recommendations for media regulation. Being required to publish retractions or apologies for false and misleading stories is hardly draconian, despite the hyperbole of News Limited.
- Create a tort of serious invasion of privacy as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission (with strong protections for freedom of speech).
- All political advertising to be subject to regulation for misleading and deceptive conduct (analogous to the position for businesses under Australian Consumer Law).
- Create a national commission (cf Productivity Commission) to analyse and publish regular reports on responsible levels of debt/deficit/surplus for both the Commonwealth and all States. This is a longstanding suggestion of Nicholas Gruen. Such a body would have no power to require its recommendations to be adhered to, but independent analysis might at least restrain some of the more absurd hyperbole of people like Tony Abbott screaming “debt and deficit” when in fact Australia’s debt is the lowest in the developed world and not a matter of concern on any rational view.
- Increase the powers, independence and resources of Infrastructure Australia and task it with producing independent “value for money” assessments of all proposed infrastructure projects (Commonwealth and State) over (say) $5 million. Again this body would not have any determinative powers (which rightly belong to elected governments) but would greatly improve government transparency and accountability.
Apart from being sound policy (in my view at least), all these measures are ones for which I reckon the Gillard government could muster Green and Independent support to get them enacted. They are also measures which any future government (especially one led by Tony Abbott) would find very difficult to repeal once enacted.