For the first time in the nation’s history, Australia has embarked on a new parliamentary year with wall-to-wall Labor Governments, but will the nation benefit?
As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stressed, both before and after last November’s Federal election, it provides an opportunity for a new era of Federal/State co-operation - ending the “blame game” and forging a new level of unity across the nation.
At the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in late December, initial steps were taken towards addressing key issues such as health, productivity and education, climate change, infrastructure, business regulation, housing, and indigenous affairs.
Most of these will resonate with the public. For most of us it isn’t just a case of getting rid of unnecessary duplication and ending squabbles over money, but also putting policies in place that transcend state boundaries and therefore require nationally consistent legislation.
Education is a case in point. Why should a mid-year move from New South Wales to Queensland mean your child also changes their year level at school? Why do children follow different curricula depending on which State or Territory they live in?
Addressing homelessness is another pertinent example. In a prosperous society it is profoundly unjust for there to be an estimated 100,000 homeless people suffering from want. Clearly this is a national concern.
A strong nationally co-ordinated approach is needed which provides real leadership in addressing the problem while still recognising the unique needs of different jurisdictions.
To his credit, Mr Rudd has already moved the issue of homelessness higher up the nation’s agenda, recently commissioning a white paper to canvas long-term options to address the problem. It will take all of this initiative as well as a strong desire by state and federal governments to work together on this issue before a real difference can be made.
Indigenous policy is another area clearly requiring a national response. The apology to the Stolen Generations was a large step forward, but the need for nationally-driven practical measures to address the inequities faced by Indigenous communities is huge. People are simply too important to be allowed to fall through the cracks of inconsistencies in different state governments interest or capacity.
However the list of issues in need of greater federal/state consultation doesn’t end there. There are also some important issues of common values where Australia needs far more national consistency. Too many laws which impact on the very character of our society are being made ad hoc by individual states or territories.
One such example is same-sex adoption and the push by homosexual activists for a form of gay marriage. What we have seen with these kinds of issues is activists exploiting the system of divergent state and territory jurisdictions to pursue their agendas. For example, in 2004 homosexual activists cleverly targeted the sympathetic ACT Stanhope government to put through same-sex adoption laws. The tactic was clear: where there is no national popular support, find a compliant activist jurisdiction that will push your agenda through regardless.
The 2004 same-sex adoption legislation was passed by just nine ACT politicians, without the checks and balances of an Upper House. It set a national precedent and it wasn’t long before the pressure for national consistency allowed activists to successfully push for it in Western Australia, and now other states.
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