Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Nicholas Aroney (The University of Queensland), Michael Boyce (The University of Queensland), Australia and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Federal, State and Local Responses, SSRN:
The paper describes and evaluates the response of the Australian federal system to the COVID-19 crisis. It argues that despite serious administrative failures, especially in the State of Victoria, the measures implemented by Australian governments at a Commonwealth, State, Territory and local level have been remarkably successful in containing the virus and providing quality health care to those infected. The federal system has worked relatively well, enabling a nationally coordinated approach with localised variations in governmental response, especially at a State and Territory level, although the policy response has not always been well-adjusted to the needs and circumstances of smaller local communities, especially in rural and remote regions. The centrepiece of the intergovernmental response has been the formation of a 'National Cabinet' composed of the Australian Prime Minister, the State Premiers and the Territory Chief Ministers. The National Cabinet has been relatively sucessful in coordinating the Australian governmental response to the crisis. However, considerable debate has attended its novel features and the likelihood of its continued effective operation once the crisis has passed. It is yet to be seen whether it will facilitate genuinely improved collaboration, effectiveness and accountability over the long term. The paper is divided into three parts. Part I explains the background to Australia's federal system and its response to the crisis. Part II describes the underlying constitutional, legislative and institutional framework in place to deal with major emergencies. Part III analyses the actions taken by each level of government and the intergovernmental coordination secured by the National Cabinet. Part IV evaluates the effectiveness of the response of the Australian federal system and discusses whether its achievements involve any enduring improvements or reforms to the system.