Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.09 p.m.)-If you hang around politics long enough you really do see everything-the great centralising party of Gough Whitlam has become federalist. The Australian Labor Party has become the great champion of states’ rights. Labor is now arguing that the Commonwealth is treading on the sacred rights of the states and territories, as though Commonwealth-state relations are somehow fixed. The truth is that federalism is constantly evolving.
I will let those senators opposite in on a little secret: the Commonwealth actually have no great desire to directly fund state hospitals; we do not have a great desire to put money into schools to pay for carpets, classrooms and air conditioners; we do not have a great desire to intervene in health, education, law and order and housing in the Northern Territory. It is not actually the Commonwealth that is putting the states out of business; it is the states themselves that are putting the state governments out of business. If the states were not abrogating their core responsibilities, if they were not failing to execute their core functions, the Commonwealth would not have to intervene in areas such as the Mersey hospital. We would be quite delighted if state Labor governments looked after their core responsibilities.
But, if a vacuum is created in core services, that vacuum will be filled, and the public quite rightly will ask government to fill that vacuum. We have seen it in the area of schools, where the states do not ensure literacy and numeracy standards. We have seen it in the area of school facilities, where they will not ensure adequate facilities. We have seen it with state governments not ensuring adequate urban water supplies. We have seen it with states not ensuring adequate public hospitals and decent public transport.
Quite clearly, federalism is not working as it should. We as a government did try to breathe new life into federalism. We introduced the GST because the states said that they wanted a secure and growing revenue source. So we give every single dollar to the states and territories. In 2007-08 we will be giving them $41.9 billion. Silly us-the Commonwealth government-we actually thought that this money would give the state and territory governments the freedom and the ability to fund their core services, which is what they were asking for. But the state governments are not doing that and that is why we have had to step into the Northern Territory, the Mersey hospital in Tasmania, and schools: it is because those basic and core services were not being provided.
Labor’s ‘killer’ point today in the debate about the Mersey hospital was costings. They allege that the government had not undertaken costings. As Senator Minchin has said, it is not unusual for prime ministers to announce policy intention and for that to then go through the regular processes of government, including costing by relevant agencies. There is nothing unusual at all about that.
I come back to the point that we will give, in 2007-08, $41.9 billion of GST revenue to the states and territories. Despite that sort of money being in the hands of the states and territories they still cannot provide basic services. Despite the fact that in the five years to 2010-11 the state governments will be borrowing $70 billion-going into debt to the tune of $70 billion-they still cannot afford those basic services. In contrast, we have paid off Labor’s debt, we are running a surplus, we are providing our core federal government services and we are also providing core state government services. What the state governments do, I do not know.
Coming back to the issue of costings, I take a little bit of heart from the fact that Labor are raising the issue of costings. In the 1998, 2001 and 2004 elections we, along with the departments of Treasury and Finance, waited in vain for Labor to submit their policies for costings. In 1998, Labor submitted only 36 per cent of their commitments for costings and, of those 36 per cent, 100 per cent were submitted too late to be costed by the Finance and Treasury process. In 2001 it was no better. In 2004 it was the same again, with something of the order of 20 significant policies not submitted by Labor for costings. Labor have no interest in transparency, they have no interest in accountability and they do not put their policies in for costing in the election period. We will; we do. (Time expired)