Time for change in Federation: former High Court Judge

Former High Court Judge, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG has told a CEDA audience that while Australia's Federation has worked well, the Federal Government recognises something must change to keep the Federation working.

"In comparison with many other states in the world, our system of government has worked pretty well over the century and decade since the system was established," he said.

However he said, "I would think the Federal Government does see some discordances that are made clear in the CEDA discussion paper and therefore something ought to be done about it."

Speaking at the South Australian release of CEDA's research report A Federation of the 21st Century, Mr Kirby said we should not criticise or be cynical of the Federal Government's debate and white paper on Australia's federation.

"I don't think one should jump to criticise something the full scope of we don't yet know and won't know until the white paper comes up next year," he said

Mr Kirby said while there is discussion about a new approach to Federalism, it comes at a time when the current Government abolished the Senate Select Committee for the Reform of the Australian Federation.

"Maybe that abolition has been done in order that they can set up their own federation council such as is proposed in the (CEDA) paper and maybe that's the way they will go ahead," he said. 

Also speaking at the event, Griffith University Adjunct Senior Research Fellow and report contributing author, Jennifer Menzies said the Prime Minister had changed his opinion on the Federation. 

"I think the Prime Minister's commitment is genuine and I've watched him make a transition from let's abolish the states which he wrote in Battlelines to becoming a federalist and you can see that journey," she said.

Ms Menzies said although the Prime Minister is committed to the Federation, his cabinet colleagues might not understand the implications of reform.

"I think there's a lot of political choppy water but the Prime Minister has on his side the liberal state premiers as colleagues who are constantly in his ear about the need for this reform," she said. 

Former SA Premier, Dr the Hon. Lynn Arnold said a debate on Federation must involve a full debate on the key issues and topics.

"If we are going to get a wide community debate on issues of federation then there will need to be a multiplicity of viewpoints," he said.

"If we really are to have a full discussion on all the issues, different stakeholders in that debate may well come at it from a point of view of either altruistic or self-interest."