Dr Jacob Deem and Jennifer Menzies

Recommendations to the National Cabinet of Australia Report

This report is an original piece by the authors and presented by Griffith Business School. The authors would like to thank the experts in federalism research and government officials who commented on an earlier draft of this proposal and provided suggestions for refining the model for a National Federation Commission. 

Australian federalism trembles in the balance. Recent crises in the form of bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need and opportunities for meaningful structural reform. The creation and now long-term adoption of a National Cabinet promises a chance to reset Australian governance and bring out the best of its federal model. But in order to do so, the National Cabinet must be able to address and overcome the challenges that beset the Federation: the longstanding structural challenges of increased centralism, fiscal inequality and issues in service delivery, as well as more recent developments such as hyper-partisanship, short-term policymaking and high turnover of representatives (especially of leaders). Deakin once described the formation of the Australian federation as a miracle –now is the time to seize the fresh miracle of cooperation between federal and state governments in the coronavirus recovery effort to secure long-term reform.

‘The fortunes of Federalism have visibly trembled in the balance twenty times during the last ten years... To those who have watched its inner workings, followed its fortunes as if their own, and lived the life of devotion to it day by day, its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles’

– Alfred Deakin (1900) The Federal Story

Context of the National Cabinet: how did we get it, and what support does it need?

On 13 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced the formation of a National Cabinet to facilitate coordination between the federal and state governments in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Cabinet proved a successful forum for adaptive policymaking a­­­nd at-times rigorous debate, and this prompted many observers of Australian federalism, including two former premiers, to call for the National Cabinet to be made a feature of the Australian system even after the immediate challenges of COVID-19 ease. These hopes came to fruition when the Prime Minister announced on 29 May 2020 that the National Cabinet would be replacing COAG as the forum for federal cooperation, coordination and discussion in Australia.

Challenges for the National Cabinet

To succeed in reforming and empowering the federation, the National Cabinet must overcome three key issues

  1. High turnover of elected officials, especially leaders
  2. Managing the politics of the federation
  3. Incentives to pursue meaningful reform are imbalanced between federal and state governments

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About the Authors

Dr Jacob Deem

Lecturer at CQUniversity’s Law School

Jacob specialises in public law research, focusing particularly on federalism, constitutional law and the principle of subsidiarity. His published works on these topics include lead authorship of ‘Subsidiarity in the Australian Public Service’ (in Australian Journal of Public Administration) and ‘Beyond the Canberra Bubble’ (in From Turnbull to Morrison), and co-authorship of ‘A Tale of Two Regionalisms’ (in Regional Studies). He has also contributed chapters on placemaking, local governance and Constitutional reform to volumes such as the Oxford Handbook of Australian Politics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) and A People’s Federation (Federation Press, 2017). His PhD Thesis ‘Subsidiarity’s Quest for Meaning’ uncovered vibrant subsidiarity political cultures in Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

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Jennifer Menzies

Principal Research Fellow at the Policy Innovation Hub

Jennifer has over 25 years experience in policy and public administration in both the State and Commonwealth Governments. As a senior executive within the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet she developed the government’s strategic policy agenda including the Smart State Policy. Jennifer was also Cabinet Secretary from 2001 to 2004 and the inaugural Secretary for the Council for the Australian Federation from 2007 to 2009 and a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission 2011 -2016. She publishes in the fields of caretaker conventions, federalism and intergovernmental relations.

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