Tuesday, March 01, 2005

democracy and revenue from the GST.

Last night on Lateline you had the Beattie and Bracks tag team vehemently (and rightfully) objecting to the proposed imposition of restrictions on state expenditure of GST revenue being talked about by Costello. A couple of things about last night's interview:
(i) It wasn't really fair — there was no chance for Costello to defend himself against the prepared rantings of the terrible two, and Tony Jones just kept handing them free kick after free kick.
(ii) This is not say that it wasn’t enjoyable. I have no problem with them kicking Costello when he is defenceless. There is absolutely no question that he would do the same, and no one watches the show anyway except for boring political junkies like me, insomniacs, and shift-workers. And anyway, he is arrogant and power hungry.

Now this farce is all about Costello’s remarks on the Sunday program, where he says;
“The public is paying this GST revenue to state governments. They want to know that it's being properly applied in infrastructure and in health and in other areas of responsibility”
and;
“we are going to make significant efforts to heighten accountability of state governments”.

The thing is that is not your place to decide whether it has been spent “properly”. That is what state governments do, under our system of Federation. We elect them, scrutinise their policies and assess their performance. Not you.

Now. I am having problems actually finding what these accountability measures that Costello mentions are. The Oz, which usually has a good idea of what’s going on (read: Treasury briefings), speculates here. They talk about;
“An annual report on the state government budgets, compiled by the federal Treasury, that will detail how much the states are spending on key government services. This would be separate to the review of federal-state financial relations, which is included in the commonwealth's budget documents, and the Productivity Commission's annual benchmarking of the delivery of government services.”
These publications both include figures as to state expenditure, and the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services allows a comparison of expenditure and efficiency across a range of services at the state government level. Annual state budgets publicly detail estimates of how the states are to spend their money for that financial year and are easily available.

So ... let's make it clear — this is not about accountability. This new review is only for one purpose — it is a grab for power to try and direct state government expenditure.

As Jon Faine, who normally annoys the shit out of me, says;
“it is about whether you are trying now to control how they (the states) spend it (the GST money).”
Costello is trying to dictate priorities for state budgets, something that is well beyond his prerogative. State governments are elected on a policy platform that they present in the state elections. They are separate to the Federal government. And if the Federal government is trying to impose its’ will over the choices made by the state electorate then that is a blatant attempt to circumvent the democratic process.

(This is all totally ignoring the fact that if restrictions are imposed on the state expenditure of GST revenue, this is dishonouring the agreement in distribution of GST fundings made in 2000 — I don't have the time to get started on that. Read the Beattie and Bracks show for more on this argument, which is not unimportant, it is just that everyone is fairly used to the Howard government's deception and it is consequently fairly blase.)

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