Terry Moran: rebalancing government to save the federation

Australia’s federation requires bold reform to endure. “We need to shatter the illusion that the Commonwealth is the ‘Swiss army pocketknife’ of government in Australia.”

Federation in 1901 is now the middle point between 2014 and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Despite this, most views of federation, if Australians have one at all, are probably shaped by its 19th century imagery — dusty, whiskery elderly men in overly formal dress — rather than its 20th century outcomes.

This is a shame. Behind the federation process in the 19th century was the political courage to undertake radical reform in pursuit of the opportunities created by new political and economic structures, as well as broader strategic concerns about Australia’s place in the world.

Despite being conceived in the 19th century, federation was a child of the 20th century. In a new report released today by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, I argue our challenge is to think of the next stage in its development and the opportunities that a new wave of reforms could create.

The historic benefits of reform

Federation has delivered enormous economic benefits. In an insightful analysis, professors Anne Twomey and Glenn Withers usefully summarised the benefits as the “six Cs”:

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