Why we gave up on federalism reform (this time)

FEATURE: The scrapping of the federation white paper and new conditions on education funding show federalism has taken a back seat in the government’s priorities, say observers. How did it come to this?

The Reform of the Federation White Paper process has finally been officially put down after several months of inaction.

The cancellation was confirmed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in a Senate committee hearing last week — as was the fact that the government spent $4.45 million on it.

But it’s just one — albeit symbolic — example of the Commonwealth government’s indecisiveness about whether it wants to return some of its power to the states or keep it for itself.

The problems the white paper was supposed to address are well known in policy circles: a huge imbalance between who holds the purse strings (the Commonwealth) and those with the Constitutional right to many policy areas (the states), resulting in a lack of accountability, bureaucratic duplication and decisions often not being made by those closest to the action.

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