Australia’s Budget 2007 and Federalism

This week is perhaps the pinnacle of the annual parliamentary calendar seeing the Treasurer deliver the annual budget for the nation , followed up two days later by a somewhat ficticious response by the Opposition leader. Undeniably, the last decade of Liberal government has seen a return to economic responsibility with the removal of 100 billion dollars worth of government debt, continued surpluses, low inflation, unemployment and so on. There are a number of elements of the budget which I think are disappointing (low ICT spending being a key one), but in general the budget again highlights the strong credentials of the Government.

Quite a lot of the budget (and budget response) centred around education. I continue to find it somewhat bizarre that the Opposition sees that the Federal Government is responsible for the failings within the education system. I think that both the Government and Opposition see that the current education system has many failings – but rather than blaming the Federal Government, a lot of the fault needs to lie with state governments.

The concept of state governments was certainly valid back in the late 19th century when Australia comprised of several semi-autonomous colonies. However, it is now somewhat anachronistic and highly inefficient to have this multiplicity of state-based education systems that are frankly below par with other countries. Accepting that primary and secondary education is poor in Australia needs to be linked to seeing that the key responsibility for these institutions lies with state governments, not the Commonwealth. If blame is to be seen to fall on the Commonwealth Government, then it is fair for the Commonwealth to take responsibility for these institutions. Interestingly, the issue of revising the federal-state divide is one that has much bipartisan support. Of course, getting an electorate to appreciate this would be another matter – ah, the joys of democracy…