State and territory governments can do more to improve the lives of Australians. The State Orange Book 2018 shows that outcomes vary between states across a broad range of areas. In many cases, states are different because their governments adopted better policies.
State Orange Book Scorecard
For example, Victoria has relatively good health outcomes – and has improved more – on a range of measures such as mortality, cost and waiting times, whereas South Australia and the Northern Territory lag well behind. Other states and territories could learn from how Victoria has managed its hospitals.
Other policy areas require more difficult trade-offs. South Australia has more expensive electricity and more outages, but it has lower carbon emissions.
State and territory policy problems aren’t hard to find. Per capita income has been flat for five years as the mining boom subsided. State and territory governments continue to announce large infrastructure projects without doing enough homework beforehand. Home ownership is falling fast among the young and the poor, and homelessness is rising. Our schools are not keeping up with the best in the world. In most states, people are waiting longer for medical treatments. Wholesale electricity prices have increased significantly over the past few years.
Many worthwhile reforms have been implemented over the past decade. Victoria’s hospitals cost less per patient and contribute to better health outcomes than elsewhere. Queensland’s school students learn more in Years 3-5, and this has improved significantly in the past few years. The ACT has started to replace inefficient stamp duties with a much more efficient broad-based property tax. NSW has used the good times to improve its budget position. Victoria, South Australia and the ACT have all increased the transparency of political decision-making and tightened controls over money in politics.
But every state and territory could learn from the others and do better.
State governments – particularly NSW and Victoria – face population pressures. They should resist political pressure to wind back planning reforms that have helped to increase housing supply, and instead should go further to ensure enough housing is built, particularly in established suburbs, to accommodate rapidly growing populations. NSW and Victoria should commission work to enable the introduction of time-of-day road and public transport pricing to manage congestion in Melbourne and Sydney. All states should stop announcing transport projects before they have been analysed rigorously, and they should evaluate completed projects properly.
There are other important priorities for economic reform. All states should follow the lead of the ACT and replace stamp duties with broad-based property taxes. States should reform electricity markets to encourage reliability and reduce emissions – whether or not the Commonwealth Government cooperates.
States could deliver services better. Other states should follow Victoria’s lead and reduce the overall cost and the variation in cost between public hospitals. And they should develop more prevention programs to reduce the disparity between regional and urban health outcomes. States should lift progress for all students by identifying and spreading good teaching practices at the same time as strengthening the evidence base. They should also invest more in early learning for the most disadvantaged students.
Institutional reforms are needed as well. States need more visibility of their long-term budget positions. While institutional accountability is improving in many states, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory need to limit election spending, and make political donations and lobbying more transparent.