The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has hailed a new era of cooperation between the states and commonwealth while revealing it was former prime minister and “mutual friend” Paul Keating who recommended he and the New South Wales premier work closely together on a reform agenda.
Speaking exclusively to Guardian Australia ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting – the first since Anthony Albanese became prime minister – Andrews said he was hopeful that the country’s leaders could agree on a program of reform for health, energy, and skills after a wasted decade under the former Coalition government.
Andrews, who along with his NSW counterpart, Dominic Perrottet, announced a shake-up of preschool education on Thursday, said he had contacted Perrottet at the urging of Keating.
“After [Perrottet] became premier, Paul rang me and said, ‘oh, you should reach out. He is serious about doing some things’, and I said, ‘OK, no worries’, so of course,e I did, and it went well,” Andrews said.
“We don’t necessarily agree on everything, but we get along well in that he’s focused on outcomes and trying to leave the place better than he found it, and there’s no shortage of challenges to tackle.”
Andrews said the two leaders “talk quite often” and discussed the need for health and economic reform, which will be at Friday’s meeting in Canberra.
“Coming out of the pandemic, there is a greater understanding among state and territory leaders that there are big levers to be pulled that make profound differences in people’s lives that can unlock productivity, unlock the potential that would go unfulfilled if we didn’t step up and make some of these changes,” he said.
He said he believed there was an appetite for cooperation among state and territory leaders and that Albanese would be a “great Labor leader” willing to work cooperatively to achieve meaningful change for Australians.
“That’s what’s so refreshing about the new government,” Andrews said.
“I’ve known Anthony for 25, 30 years, and he didn’t run just to win; he ran to do the work, and there’s a big difference between politicians who are just about winning and defeating their opponents v people who want the challenge,” he said. “They want the opportunity as well as the obligation of the office.
“He is not going to sit around occupying the office. He’s going to try to get things done. And he can count on Victoria, and I think increasingly, he can count on all of us … as partners to do that important work.”
Daniel Andrews hoped the federal Labor government would lead a new era of cooperation between states, territories, and the Commonwealth. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian
Andrews criticized the wasted years of the former federal government, saying serious national challenges had been neglected as a result of its political divisions.
The energy market, for example, was now in a state of crisis because the former government was “busy denying science”, he said.
“You know, they say a week is a long time in our business, and that’s fine, but years and years and years without necessarily an agenda beyond just winning is an absolute eternity in terms of the opportunity cost and all those things we haven’t been able to do, all those challenges we haven’t been able to square up to.
“That’s why it is so good now. We have got a partner – you want someone to dance with. That’s all you want.”
For the energy sector, Andrews said the sharp focus brought to the issue by the current crisis would bring urgency to solving the problem.
“We don’t have time to waste on this,” he said. “We’ve already wasted long enough, the best part of a decade.”
On the need for health sector reform, he said the federal government needed to give the states an extension of the 50-50 funding deal struck to cover pandemic-related costs while broader reform was pursued.
But he said there was no point letting “lofty” goals get in the way of making changes to the health system, saying many of the challenges in the healthcare system could be addressed with practical and commonsense measures. He also linked many of the pressures in the health system back to workforce shortages, an issue Perrottet has flagged he wants on Friday’s agenda.
“It’s just simple common sense,” Andrews said. “Right care, right place, right time. If you think about it for long enough, every health question becomes a workforce question. Have you got the right people working in the right place, and enough of them?”
He said the states could not wait until 2025, when the current national health partnership expired, to pursue reform. He said the state was confident the two tiers of government could tackle how the primary health network interfaced with hospitals.
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The need for a shake-up of the primary health network to take pressure off hospitals has been publicly backed by Perrottet, the South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, and the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, in the lead-up to the national cabinet meeting.
Under the current model, Andrews said the federal government was paying an equal share of the “price of failure” when patients ended up in the state hospitals unnecessarily.
“If you’re paying 45% or 50% of the price of failure, then you have a great incentive to invest in your primary care system so that those people never make it to the hospital,” he said.
“You’re paying half the price of a system that doesn’t work. You are hurting yourself, and the dividend from success is greater than the cost.”
Andrews said the call for more support in the health system from the states was not “just a begging bowl exercise”, but he would not expect Albanese to proceed with “Scott Morrison’s cuts”.
Andrews said the new government had been formed in the “most uncertain times” and praised Albanese’s election platform that promised changes to Tafe, childcare, aged care, and the energy system.
“They’ve made a pretty fast start,” he said. “I think they’ve got a real sense of ambition. They see that there’s an opportunity here, but there’s an obligation as well.
“Any new government gets a bit of goodwill; it’s about what you do with it. It’s about how you repay the trust that has been placed in you and whether you have a sense of urgency.
“Every day in government is precious, and you have got to have that sense of urgency about you.”