Are the “mendicant” states, South Australia and Tasmania, so hopelessly weak that they should pay Victoria to deliver services for them?
That was the question recently put to Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles by Labor MP Danny Pearson, chair of the parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee.
After all, Victoria has led the way on quality service delivery for decades, said Pearson.
“To look at SA and Tasmania as standalone entities they are economically marginal at best. At best. ‘Mendicant states’ has been a term that has been used, yes,” he contended.
“I was just wondering, from the point of view of Victoria, has consideration been given to … Victoria being able to provide services to those mendicant states on a fee for service basis?”“I’m not sure [monetising services] would be in the interests of the federation and the sharing of experts and expertise.”
Indeed, while it’s a creative idea, Pearson’s suggestion is far less radical than that of former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, who has long advocated bringing the Festival State and the Apple Isle under the yoke of Melbourne.
The normally unflappable Eccles — who in a past life was head of the SA public service — had to take a moment to think how to respond during his appearance before PAEC on Thursday.
“I’ve been around the issue of intergovernmental relations for a while, including in my role as the chief executive of the SA premier’s department. We certainly weren’t at that time interested in outsourcing service provision to Victoria,” Eccles explained.
While there is, of course, plenty of cross-border private sector activity, he said, “never to my knowledge has there been a suggestion that a sovereign state would outsource its human service delivery to another state.”
Backpedaling slightly, Pearson suggested that rather than human services, Victoria could provide advice in areas in which it holds a lot of experience, such as public-private partnerships.
Rather than selling those services, Victoria has historically shared expertise with other states in a number of areas of public policy, responded Eccles.
“We do tend to share our learning and our experience and our innovation and our intellectual property,” he said. “I’m not sure [monetising services] would be in the interests of the federation and the sharing of experts and expertise.”