Victoria-Commonwealth relations at all-time low

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Australia’s federal system of government has its pluses and minuses. Proponents say federalism is necessary in a country as large as Australia, while others say our population is too small and that state governments are an expensive and inefficient way of ensuring we are properly governed.

It is generally agreed that the biggest disadvantage of federalism is the blame shifting and name-calling that goes on between the Federal Government and the states. We have seen this in abundance in recent months in the deteriorating relationship between the Federal Government and the government of Australia’s second largest state, Victoria.

All states have problems with the Federal Government from time to time. In Victoria’s case, it seems it is just one thing after another. Consider some recent developments:

The ‘African gangs’ issue. Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton accuses Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of going soft on crime after well-publicised examples of crime and antisocial behaviour in the South Sudanese immigrant community in Melbourne. He has got so far to say that Victorians are afraid to go out night.

He has been supported by a vocal campaign in the Murdoch press. Others have called for calm, pointing out that stigmatising certain groups only adds to the problems. Giving them publicity glamourises them. It is a classic right versus left argument.

Mobile blackspots. Last week Victoria withdrew from the Federal Government’s mobile blackspots program, saying that Victoria is underfunded and that blackspots in Coalition seats are being unfairly favoured.

The issue has been simmering for more than a year, with both sides accusing the other of playing politics. Now Victoria will not fund the joint program and will fix its own blackspots, thank you very much.

Commonwealth State financial relations. Victoria, after Western Australia, has been the most vocal critic of the federal government’s attempts to reset the GST distribution mechanism. In October Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas called his state’s relations with Canberra ‘chaotic and punitive ’, saying that the Federal Government consistently change the rules unilaterally, and was attempting to use its funding mechanisms to override state government policies.

He gave the examples of the Medicare levy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as examples.

Euthanasia laws. In November the Victorian Parliaments passed legislation that will lead to the legalisation of assisted dying in the state. Despite the fact that the law was supported by some Coalition members, the Federal Government has strongly criticised the move.

It has not said it will override the laws, as it did when the Northern Territory passed similar legislation a few years ago. Health Minister Greg Hunt has indicated he will do what he can to prevent the usage of various pharmaceuticals that might help people commit suicide.

Climate change. After South Australia, Victoria is the biggest critic of the Federal Government’s inaction on climate change. It is unable to implement carbon pricing on its own, but it is able to actively encourage renewable energy and encourage a move away from fossil fuels. More than any other state, Victoria relies on highly polluting brown coal for its energy needs.

The Victorian Labor Government is facing re-election at the end of November. Labour has been ahead in most polls, but not by much, and it has only a small majority. Ten months out, the election is a toss-up. The Federal Coalition Government is very unpopular in Victoria, but the ALP’s Daniel Andrews and his team have also polarised voters.

The politics of the blame game, and who can get the voters to believe the other side of politics is most blame with the inevitable problems caused by the breakdown of the intergovernmental relationship, will most likely determine the outcome of the election.


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