KATHARINE MURPHY July 25, 2012
ORDINARY folks, safely outside the surly faux combat that passes for organised public discourse these days, would be perfectly entitled to conclude this afternoon that national politics is so toxic and dysfunctional that it can deliver absolutely nothing.
The Prime Minister and the Premiers met today to discuss amongst other significant issues, the creation of a national disability insurance scheme - a landmark public policy reform so significant, just and shamefully overdue that we can simply conclude it necessary, and not stretch out the preamble.
The Labor states consented to be part of an NDIS trial.
The conservative states, today, did not.
Their criticism of the proposal on the table for today's COAG discussion was various.
They couldn't afford it. There was too much money going down the drain in set up costs. Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu spoke disconsolately of risks - which remained unspecified. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman blamed Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh.
Everyone was of course profoundly disappointed, but apparently not enough to actually do anything. The bottomline from Messrs O'Farrell, Baillieu, Newman and Barnett was "no deal Julia" - well not today anyway. No Prime Ministerial win for the nightly television news.
Consequently only three trials of the NDIS proposal - in South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra - will go ahead.
The recalcitrant conservative states will continue to talk to a Prime Minister who looked so quietly, lethally ropable at the press conference just a little while ago that the Gillard pooch Reuben should fear the return of his mistress to The Lodge later this evening.
Perhaps Australia's disabled people will see a meaningful, substantive breakthrough with the big states now the cameras are turned off and officials can talk to officials.
Perhaps that breakthrough will be quick. Possibly it will, and let's hope so.
Perhaps it won't.
The appearance of partisan, self-serving roiling was everywhere this afternoon; a contagion.
A Prime Minister in desperate internal trouble trying to do what she does in good times and in bad: put one foot in front of the other. Get things done. But the appearance - whatever the more complex reality - was more isolation, and insufficient personal authority.
And when the Premiers weren't shirt-fronting the Prime Minister on the trial of the NDIS, they were blueing amongst themselves about the future carve-up of the GST.
Of course there are substantive public policy issues to work through in the NDIS.
Of course the Premiers are entitled to query the tin-tacks of the scheme rather than just assume Canberra, in its wisdom, knows all. Of course in-depth work should proceed to ensure that people with disabilities get the best possible scheme that Australian governments collectively can deliver.
But they should get cracking, these recalcitrants, with good faith and will, and soon; lest voters - already sick of the daily posturing, and cheap-jack sloganeering garbage - begin to despair all together.
Katharine Murphy is The Age national affairs correspondent and writes The Pulse blog for the National Times.