August 02, 2007 | Graham

All politics is federal

Our surveys show that a substantial number of voters blame Howard for problems with the health system. That’s why he’s taking over a hospital in Tasmania, and offering to do the same in other spots around the country.
Labor has been trying to jam Howard by sheeting the blame for the failures of Labor state governments in health, education and infrastructure to him. When Julia Gillard says that Labor wants to end the “blame game” what she really means is that she wants Howard to wear the blame. It’s a beautiful play. You use the problems created by your own incompetence at the peripheral levels of government as a justification for taking control at the central level. Nice work if you can get it.
Being the pragmatist he is, and armed with the current High Court’s recent interpretations of the Constitution which give the Commonwealth extensive powers never envisaged by any previous generation, Howard has decided he’s not going to be a sitting duck on this one. A de facto takeover of the health system walks right around the “blame game” gambit and shifts the blame back to where it belongs.
At the same time Rudd has played into Howard’s hands by proposing to untie the states from the fiscal discipline of tied Commonwealth Grants, a strategy apparently devised by a former advisor to SA premier John Bannon. Bannon was the Premier who lost office because of huge financial mismanagement of the State Bank of South Australia.
Howard has been criticising the states for being Kevin Rudd’s shock troops. In fact, he’s got it the wrong way around. It’s not the popular Rudd who appears to be pulling the strings, it’s the states. The election rhetoric is shaping as being a battle between whether the states control the commonwealth through Rudd or whether the federal government gets on top of them. This is a problem for Rudd. Voters like him, but they are unsure whether he is strong enough. No surprise then that Alexander Downer has taken to calling Rudd “Jellyback” TM Paul Keating.

Posted by Graham at 9:39 pm | Comments (10) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I would have thought that Downer would be the last person calling anyone old jellyback.
    Given his record in the Iraq mess, his utter incompentence in the 300 mil payment Downer should shut up

    Comment by John Ryan — August 3, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  2. Agreed John. Somebody smart should offer to pay Downer to keep his mouth shut. When he said ‘grovel in the dirt’ he probably didn’t expect people to read it as a fine suggestion.
    I’m looking forward to seeing how this shock and awe on hospitals thing works out. It puts Abbott front and centre and, love him or loathe him, he is very good at the verbal assault.
    Apparently very important doctors are quitting the hospital over it, so it could just fizzle out like the surge on water and the state of emergency on little brown kiddies.
    The states/federal thing is an interesting angle too, but there’s a big gamble there for Howard. Plenty of people are unhappy with the premiers, but does that translate into joy at the prospect of an even more powerful federal government? Remember those guys? The ones who overrode the states to give us Workchoices?

    Comment by Lyn — August 3, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  3. Was Howard’s offer to fund the Devenport Hospital a “core” or “non-core” promise? Unless every other regional hospital around the country gets a similar funding commitment there are going to be a lot of people saying Why Devenport and not us? The hospital at Burnie just down the road from Devenport was going to get a major upgrade as an offset to the downgrading of Devenport. Will that still go ahead? If not, how will the people of Burnie feel.

    Comment by rossco — August 3, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  4. Graham, as a “CONSTITUTIONALIST” it appears to me that you lack a proper understanding and comprehension as to what the Constitution is about.
    In 1946 the electors by referendum authorised the Commonwealth of Australia to pay for the hospital cost. Constitutionally it means that the Commonwealth of Australia is to fund all cost without the States having to pay any thing towards!
    Constitutionally, where there is federal powers to legislate then it must be for the whole of the Commonwealth, not just picking out a specific hospital for political purposes, hence any funding to a specific hospital as such would be unconstitutional unless it is provided to all hospitals in the same circumstances!
    Ownership of the hospitals remains with the States but the financial cost of running hospitals is with the Commonwealth of Australia, so the people decided in 1946.
    As such, what are you on about the blame game? Why do you seek to blame the States? If anything the States have unconstitutionally funded hospitals for too long! So, are you blaming the States for providing funding contrary to constitutional provisions? Were the States to let people die because Federal Government are more interested in spending tens of millions of dollars to advertise in the media then to spend the money where it should go to.
    We had the same nonsense with the 10 billion dollar water project, where Malcolm Turnbull himself admitted that despite more then 50 years of over allocation of water, the Federal Government did nothing within its powers of Section 100 of the Constitution to address this!
    How on earth can you claim everything is federal where the only matters that are federal are those we, the people, allowed it to be by federation and by successful referendums.
    As for the High Court interpretation I view is more alike TREASON, then interpretation of the Intentions of the Framers of the Constitution as I have set out in my latest book published on 27 May 2007 about WorkChoices how the Court deceived the people by concealing from the judgment relevant details/information as to purport the WorkChoices legislation was constitutionally valid.
    See also my blog at and my website at
    If you really desire to make a positive contribution then I suggest you first research the issue you write about! You might even learn what the Constitution really is about rather then to rely upon political propaganda!

    Comment by Mr. G. H. Schorel-Hlavka — August 3, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

  5. Graham,
    The problems with the health system can rightly be shifted home to the Federal government because of the cuts in funding to health over the past 11 years. Under these new federal/state arrangements we should expect to see action on the dental and legal aid front very soon as these are two standout areas where state governments are not able to maintain service proper standards of service delivery. (somehow i don’t think this will happen)
    The masterstroke of the hospital takeover has very quickly been seen yet again as ad hoc, back of the envelope, policy development. How good is it going to look when they have a hospital where the entire staff has resigned in protest at the decision and they can’t get replacements in a hurry?
    Methinks that this is yet another case of the emperor has no clothes.

    Comment by barney — August 4, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  6. Why do I get the sense the more power devolved to the federal government the less democracy I get? At the moment I have 3 spheres over which my vote makes a difference, federal, state, and local. These institutions, and the tensions that exists between them, would appear to have served us, compared to other countries, more than adequately well. Sure there is blame shifting and inefficencies but my faith in the Australian voting pubic is strengthened when I see all Labour states and a federal Coalition. They might just be a little smarter than some of our politicians give them credit for. Maybe they should be left to deal with the failures of government at each level rather than having the prime minister doing it for them.

    Comment by Cameron — August 4, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  7. Barney, what are these health cuts you are referring to (apart from the cuts to dental health which I know about)? And are you really saying that the Federal government is the body with primary responsibility for the problems in health?
    Despite Gerit’s post, the states are constitutionally responsible for health, and they’ve been doing an appalling job recently. In Queensland, for example, the state government didn’t build any hospital beds for years, even though the population has been increasing at over 2% per annum.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 4, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  8. Graham,
    Agreed. States are responsible for health. But the reality is that the Federal government controls the purse strings. From the moment they got into power (and despite the mythology of the supposed financial stability of the GST growth tax) this government has cut funding to the states and particularly in health. Constitutional niceties have no place in the real world that the two levels of government live in. And as Alan Ramsay points out today if this were such a wonderful initiative why haven’t we had “community hospitals” springing up all over the Northern Territory and outback WA, NSW SA and Queensland over the past 11 years? This is a desperate measure by an increasingly desperate government. And I repeat. How will this work if most of the doctors resign? As ad hoc and ham-fisted as it transparently is.

    Comment by barney — August 4, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  9. There are those that don’t agree Howard is responsible for the Health systems coming apart at the seams,I can’t fathom the way they think.The federal funding for states has been sliced to the bone on health.Another example is WA & the uranium laws,Carpenter has been told you may as well give in because the frederal government have the final say.It’s the same in any state on every law,if Howard wants to change it he can.Because we base our constution on the British Westminister system which was not designed for a country like Australia which does not make for a true federation either,no democracy here it’s Howards way or no way.

    Comment by Dr Who — August 4, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

  10. I doubt whether health will be the next battle ground for either Howard or Rudd – it remains a mine field.
    Bob Carr – only half jokingly I suspect – offered NSW Health to the Mad Monk as a parting gesture when he resigned as Premier.
    Health will remian in the too hard basket for years to come. If you belive te press and the other stakeholders health has been in one “crisis” or another for over twenty years.
    I expect it will take a genuine crisis before any party has the will to what will essentially be a struggle between the medicos, the administrative boffins and the politicians – the health unions may have a bit to say but they wont be allowed to play too much with the big boys if the game ever gets called.
    Howards attempt to interfere in Van Diemns Land is politicking at its worst and has been seen for that

    Comment by Kym Durance — August 6, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

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