The latest Newspoll survey on federalism sponsored by Griffith University has another small piece of evidence that the Pincus position – the idea that Australian federalism works principally through vertical interaction and competition between the Commonwealth and the states rather than horizontal competition between the states – may have popular support.
A question on features of federalism (there are several in the survey, but the answers to most have not been released) asked whether ‘different levels of government being able to collaborate on solutions to problems’ was desirable, and more than 90% said yes. While respondents may have had in mind better bureaucratic coordination, like the two houses in a bicameral system two levels of government in a federal system may offer different perspectives, interests, experiences and abilities.
The current situation in which Victoria, with extensive experience of a case-mix system of hospital funding, is putting an alternative to Kevin Rudd’s hospital funding plan into the national debate is a good example of how the policy competition that is supposed to be a feature of horizontal competition between states can also work vertically.
Another interesting feature of this Newspoll is the question on what institutions respondents would like to have in 20 years time. There is 42% support for regional governments, an idea that has been at the fringes of policy debate for decades but never really had effective champions in the political class, who are usually deterred by the constitutional difficulties involved. Perhaps surprisingly, support is only slightly higher (45%) in Queensland, the state with the strongest regional differences.