Friday, April 13, 2007

A leaders' love-in, without whining

Ahead of the eight Labor leaders’ visit to Canberra to meet the Prime Minister there were rumblings of war. John Howard, the most centralist Australian Prime Minister of all, had declared that “What matters is not the states”, declaring that “as far as I am concerned, I don’t care very much about state borders”.

But something softened both sides.

At dinner at The Lodge on Wednesday night the Prime Minister and his eight Labor guests dined on creamy potato gnocchi with seared salmon, chives and watercress, followed by spinach and prosciutto-trussed lamb backstrap with braised spring onions and turned potatoes, washed down with a Hardy’s Pathway unwooded chardonnay 2002 and a Clare Valley cabernet merlot 2004 and finished off with crème caramel surrounded by a chocolate cage with fresh berries and port syrup.

It wasn’t so much that the Prime Minister saw things from the states’ point of view as that the states have for some time been seeing things from the Commonwealth’s viewpoint.

The Commonwealth wants measures boost productivity... (In his leaked speech this month the Treasury Secretary made it clear that that would be the rationale for future Treasury support. Measures to “create jobs” would no longer get ticks.) And, being the Commonwealth, it wants uniform national standards.

Every measure the states offered to the Commonwealth yesterday was couched in those terms. Fighting diabetes and improving aboriginal life outcomes are about lifting productivity.

The Prime Minister is to be thanked for conducting “a very good meeting, professionally”. I know this because Western Australia’s Labor Premier said so. And he is to be congratulated for “the most powerful expression of support for anything, through the cheque book”. I know this because the ACT’s Labor leader said so.