The Possibility of National Labor Governance

A Rudd Federal Labor government working with State Labor governments could re-vitalise our national institutions.

Against all probabilities it now seems Kevin Rudd’s Federal Labor Party  will win government in 2007. I believe the people made their minds up at the last election – if given a reasonable alternative, Howard was history. My view is that Beazley would have won this coming election, but to his credit Rudd has created an even stronger probability that Labor will win.

As we get closer to the election date the Liberals will try to create the bogey of Labor being in government across the country in Federal and State parliaments.  This is no doubt something that makes Howard and the Liberal leadership wake up at night in a cold sweat. If they lose this election it will be the worst political situation ever faced by the Liberal/National coalition in its history.

I do not think the traditional Australian suspicion of wall-to-wall governments of one political persuasion is now enough to shift votes back to the Howard government. But Rudd should change course a little from his very wise tactic of simply mirroring government decisions on controversial areas such as anti-terrorism laws, aboriginal community development and water policy.

Most Australians would respond well for Rudd to use his past experience at State level to outline a series of challenges that his government would work on in conjunction with Premiers over the next four years.

In the current climate  Rudd should stick to modest but well known bottlenecks of our Federal system. These could include:

-          improving the status,  resources and follow up power of COAG;

-          identifying a series of national institutions: universities, industrial relations, the national training system, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; competition and regulatory matters that need enhanced Federal and State management and cooperation so that they can become more innovative and effective;

-          a nationally uniform system of medical expertise and hospital surgery lists with the possibility of transferring urgent cases between states, and between remote and regional areas and cities, where capacity is not being utilised;

-          resolving the water impasse between the Federal government and Victoria;

-          more rational funding and management of our health care system;

-          creating one co-ordinated system of Indigenous governance;

-          abolishing taxes on employment;

-          professionalising and recognising local government at a constitutional level;

-          reviewing and reforming the university and training system.

In all of these areas the point would not be to offer some cure all policy, but to indicate that progress could be made in improving our national system of governance by a Federal government working at a high level of cooperation with the States. Farther down the track after this initial work had been done, more ambitious goals with constitutional reform dimensions should come into play.

The opportunity of a Rudd Federal Labor government working in concert with the State Labor governments’ is an historic one. It would be a mistake to under-play its significance or to over-play what could be achieved. The point is that it is a positive possibility not a liability - as John Howard will try to suggest over coming months.