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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11889

Mr ROBB (3:20 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his repeated promises to re-engineer federalism. Prime Minister, isn’t it a fact that apart from the five special-purpose payments there are 19 national partnerships, including six new national partnerships announced this weekend alone, which contain, among other things, 28 desired outcomes, nine critical reforms, eight performance measures, eight directions, six targets, six implementation plans, six outcome measurements in five elements, three reporting requirements and three areas of focus? Prime Minister, how exactly has this streamlined the arrangements between the states and the Commonwealth?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —If that was intended as a job app-lication from the member for Goldstein, he should try again. Maybe the member for Curtin will survive another week because ‘Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look’ and a very activist briefing strategy, as we have seen in recent days. On the question of the reform of federalism: firstly, prior to this COAG there was something in the order of 96 specific purpose payments; and, secondly, as a result of the meeting and the agreement rea-ched by all premiers and chief ministers, in-cluding the Liberal Premier of Western Aust-ralia—I note in passing—that number has been reduced to five. The core element of the reform, as it goes to both the specific purpose payments and the national partnership agreements, is this: rather than have an exclusive focus on input measures for the fut-ure, let us have a commonly agreed system of measurement to work out what exactly is produced as a consequence of funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and the states. In other words, how many people are being treated within a given time frame in emergency departments? How many elective surgery procedures are being undertaken as a consequence of agreements between the Commonwealth and the states? What are we achieving in terms of transparency outcomes from schools? What are we achieving in terms of the proper training of principals to become change managers within their schools? What outcomes should be delivered when it comes to the future provision of public housing? Each of these reforms, gone over painstakingly by Commonwealth and state ministers and officials for 12 months, has been about a fundamental transformation of the way in which Commonwealth-state relations work.

In the past what the Commonwealth did was walk up and say: ‘Here’s a bucket of money—less than last time. Take it. Goodbye. So long. We don’t care about it.’ Why? The political agenda of the member for Goldstein—if the member could be bothered to focus on the answer which is being delivered to the question he just asked—is politics first, second, third and last in every single equa-tion and the political agenda of those opposite was as follows: they wanted simply to preserve a political agenda to blame the states on every occasion possible, a tired political script of which every family and every com-munity group in the country has, frankly, had a gutful. They want some change, they want transparency and they want to know what is actually being delivered by virtue of the taxpayer dollars which are being invested.

Therefore, the reform of the Federation is consistent with the principles that we articulated in opposition to begin ending the blame game, to produce outcomes measures for this $15.1 billion investment with the states and territories into the future so that we genuinely produce better hospitals, better emergency departments, better arrangements for elective surgery, better schools, better public housing, better services for the homeless and better arrangements for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. That is the reform agenda. I would suggest that those opposite became interested in reform because this government is committed to the national interest in the long term. Those opposite, led by the Leader of the Opposition, are interested in one thing—that is, their political self-interest. The stark difference between these two agendas screams out today in terms of the pattern of questions embraced by those opposite as being opposed to the policy and project of reform action that we have articulated.

I finish with this: the member for Sturt let the cat out of the bag before on computers in schools. In response to the presentation by the Treasurer about what quality funding and what quality spending those opposite would support or not support, the member for Sturt, the shadow minister for education, said, ‘Fund-ing for computers in schools did not fit that criteria’. Unless the member for Sturt and the Leader of the Opposition stand at the dispatch box and repudiate that position, let it so be declared on 1 December 2008 that the federal Liberal Party stood opposed to the delivery of funding for computers in schools. That is what the member for Sturt said before. If it is not your policy, stand up and confirm that it is not your policy. This government has a program of reform; you have a program of politics, pure and simple.