Federalism reform needs politics of hope

Australian federalism needs revitalisation, MLS constitutional law expert Professor Cheryl Saunders told the near-300 people audience at a federalism reform discussion in Bendigo recently.

Professor Cheryl Saunders

MLS Professor Cheryl Saunders believes the Commonwealth needs to return some power to the states.

Professor Saunders said federalism was being "progressively weakened", with too many decisions being made by the Commonwealth rather than by the states, and any reform needed a clear sense of purpose and direction.

"It requires cultural changes as well as constitutional redesign," she said.

Fellow speaker and former Victorian Premier John Brumby agreed that more responsibility had to be given back to the states.

He said it required a better alignment of revenue with roles and responsibilities.

"Federalism is the right model but it is not working as it should be," he said.

Dr John Hewson, former federal leader of the Liberal Party, said politics was undermining any substantive reform.

"Substantive reform is being muted by short-term politics," he said.

"Politics today is incredibly short-term, incredibly opportunistic, and incredibly negative.

Instead of politics of hope, it is politics of nope."

John Brumby and Dr John Hewson

Former Premier of Victoria John Brumby and former federal leader of the Liberal Party Dr John Hewson are strong advocates for federalism reform.

Professor Saunders, who is advocating for change following the release of the Federal Government's white paper on federalism reform, said many of the suggested changes do not actually require constitutional change.

It was important for any changes to come from public discussion and participation, which required attracting younger people to politics.

ABC News presenter Virginia Trioli led the discussion, whose participants included tax and legal partner Paul Abbey of Price Waterhouse Coopers and Melbourne School of Government's Bronwyn Hinz.By Andy Walsh