Berejiklian takes swipe at ACT in push for federation reform

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Karleen Minney
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Karleen Minney

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has taken a stab at the ACT, while arguing for reform of Australia's federation.

During a panel discussion at the 2019 McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership on Monday, the NSW Liberals leader said the coronavirus pandemic had exposed both failings and opportunities for change in how states and territories work together.

"When the federation formed, the states were very much the same size economically, socially, all that stuff. That is a very different situation now. You've got a state the size of NSW and a jurisdiction the size of the ACT essentially having an equal seat at the table and you can't go by the law of averages on every decision you take," Ms Berejiklian said.

She said there needed to be a greater ability for individual states to strike agreements with the Commonwealth.

"I don't want to wait for every single state to sign up to something if I believe it's in my citizens' best interest ," Ms Berejiklian said.

Former director-general of the Western Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet and former Commonwealth cabinet secretary Peter Conran are leading a review of the former council of Australian governments or COAG, after it was replaced by the new national cabinet at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACT famously used the forum to block the National Energy Guarantee before the policy was unceremoniously dumped when Scott Morrison swept to power in 2018.

Ms Berejiklian also said the divide between state and federal responsibilities needed to be made clearer in the wake of the Ruby Princess debacle and aged care outbreaks.

"Accountability is very black and white, not grey. but in a lot of federal/state relations there's a lot of grey," she said.

"I'm someone who likes to know what I'm responsible for, I'll manage it well, but the grey is what is challenging and so I think I ... I would much prefer moving forward that we have a really good conversation about how we can make roles and responsibilities and accountabilities much more black and white as opposed to grey."

Ms Berejiklian flagged aged care and early childhood education as areas where the state or federal government should be responsible, "but not both".

"Even in the health system we [the state government] don't have GPs or Medicare but we control the hospital systems and manage other bits of it so I think more black and white going forward is good for our nation and good for the federation and that's what I would like to keep pushing," Ms Berejiklian said.

We had one community case overnight in NSW. Why would any state close their borders to us? I just don't get it. I honestly don't get it.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Ms Berejiklian said state and territory leaders also had to remember they were part of the same country, instead of resorting to parochialism, in a thinly-veiled jab at Queensland and Western Australia over their continued border closures.

Western Australia has been shut since April with no plans to reopen to eastern states, while Queensland recently reopened to the ACT but remains closed to NSW.

"We're part of a nation and I think some states have overstepped the mark in terms of acknowledging that," Ms Berejiklian said.

"You can't take the GST revenue on the one hand and all the tax benefits on the one hand and say 'I'll take that but I won't give you anything back'. I mean that to me is not a logical way to move forward."

She said some states had not found the right balance between health and the economy in responding to the virus.

"I think some states have hidden behind border closures and that's restricted economic growth and development whereas I've said have faith in your health system. If you have faith in your health system you'll put down your border," Ms Berejiklian said.

"We had one community case overnight in NSW. Why would any state close their borders to us? I just don't get it. I honestly don't get it."

This story Berejiklian takes swipe at ACT in push for federation reform first appeared on The Canberra Times.