COAG Agreement Provides Accountability and Leadership

The BCA today congratulates the COAG partners for reshaping federal–state finances in ways that can improve the accountability and efficiency of government services and make it easier for businesses to invest and grow.

COAG has linked Specific Purpose Payments to policy outcomes, and has offered additional payments (National Partnerships) for priority outcomes. It has also reduced Specific Purpose Payments from 96 to 5.

“These are important steps towards better outcomes in health, education, business regulation and other fields,” said BCA Chief Executive Katie Lahey.

“The agreement announced today will make government services more efficient and simplify the conduct of business across state borders.

“By pushing ahead with reforms, the COAG partners have shown important leadership at a crucial moment.

“This commitment to reforms that build the productive capacity of the economy can provide a timely boost to business confidence.”

The BCA has consistently argued for reform of the federal–state relationship to focus governments on outcomes in health, education, business regulation and other fields,
and to free up governments’ resources.

“The BCA commends the COAG partners for their continued progress towards a ‘seamless economy’ where differences between states do not disrupt business activity,” Ms Lahey said.

The BCA particularly welcomes the $550 million reform National Partnership funding to be provided to states in return for unified business regulation and cuts to red tape.

The regulation funding will deliver reforms in areas including payroll tax, trades licensing and occupational health and safety. Business regards occupational health and safety reform as a priority issue where uniform laws will deliver significant
efficiency benefits, and also as a symbol of whether collaborative efforts are working effectively.

The commitment of $550 million to introduce arrangements to recognise and reward excellent teachers is to be applauded. The BCA spelt out the need to pay Australia’s best teachers better in its March 2008 Teaching Talent report. The initiative to invest in the development of leadership skills for principals and aspiring principals is another important step to achieving improved learning outcomes for students.

The education National Partnership to invest $1.1 billion to lift the learning outcomes of schools in lower socio-economic communities is also welcome. Far too many young Australians are not learning skills that are needed to participate fully in our workplaces.

The COAG partners’ commitment to review the roles and responsibilities of the federal and state governments can fulfil a major aim of the BCA’s 2007 Reshaping Australia’s Federation report.

Finally, the BCA welcomes the Prime Minister’s acknowledgment that much remains to be achieved in the COAG process. Challenges await COAG on issues including water, emissions trading and infrastructure.

The increase in accountability delivered at this meeting places an important burden on COAG and the COAG Reform Council to monitor progress towards outcomes.