Authors: Vassiliki Koutsogeorgopulou and Annamaria Tuske (OECD)
Australia’s inter-governmental fiscal relations have gradually moved towards greater centralisation. State governments receive sizeable transfers from the federal government and own revenues only partially cover their expenses. Finding the right balance between federal control and state autonomy in public service provision and its financing has not been easy. Over time various compromises have somewhat blurred responsibilities in various functional areas or reduced incentives to raise sub-national revenues potentially affecting public sector efficiency and service quality. A better balance, one in which central government has less steerage over state activities and states have more financing autonomy but also bear increased responsibility is likely to improve outcomes. Federal-state shared responsibilities continue to affect the efficiency of healthcare service delivery in particular. A clearer delineation of roles in shared functions and possibly a reallocation of responsibilities in some cases, are important. There is also scope to reduce federal grant conditionality further to contain red tape and enhance transparency and give the states a more flexible allocation of funds. Strengthening states’ revenueraising by broadening existing tax bases would promote efficiency. Consideration could be given to the introduction of a state-level income tax. The government’s current review of the federal system, focusing on both spending and tax responsibilities, is welcome, as is the "whole of government" approach to the process. This Working Paper relates to the 2014 OECD Economic Survey of Australia.
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