COAG Steps Forward But Must Improve to Avoid Stumbling

Some positive steps were taken at yesterday’s COAG meeting but a risk remains that the pace of key national reforms is slowing, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Katie Lahey said.

“The earning or learning agreement which guarantees an education or training place for all people under 25 who are not in work is a positive development. It will be important that high quality and relevant learning is undertaken,” Ms Lahey said.

“The establishment of a task force on retaining and engaging apprenticeships is also welcomed. It is vital we continue to build our skills base which will underpin a sustained economic recovery.

“These measures are positive but we do need to see the implementation plans as soon as possible for the broader education and productivity agenda to have confidence COAG can deliver on its program,” she said.

“The trend to use COAG meetings to consider issues that could be dealt with separately, such as swine flu and an emergency warning system, was concerning. Although these issues are important they are not part of the national reform agenda that COAG is required to deliver.

“As President Greig Gailey said earlier this week the progress COAG makes in the next 18 months will determine Australia’s prosperity for the next decade. We cannot afford to let reform progress slip if we want to recover early and strongly from the economic downturn,” she said.

“The business deregulation agenda needs to be urgently accelerated to underpin productivity growth. Agreeing to assess the impact of further business deregulation reforms, as COAG did yesterday, is not the same as delivering reform outcomes.

“Business is looking for concrete outcomes in this area, not more agreements, particularly in priority areas such as occupational health and safety.

“Further reform on infrastructure policy is needed to address inappropriate infrastructure pricing, the absence of effective national infrastructure markets and poor regulation.

“While we welcome the commitment to a National Strategy for Energy Efficiency, undertaking energy efficiency measures without a consistent national framework will not deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions at lowest cost.

“We will continue to call on governments to commit to the creation of Energy Efficiency Australia as a new national organisation with responsibility for the development, administration and review of energy efficiency programs in Australia.

“Ongoing reform to the energy market needs to be accelerated in anticipation of the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. For example, COAG must commit to getting rid of state electricity price caps so the CPRS can work effectively.

“We welcome the agreement yesterday to provide an additional $21 million to better resource the COAG Reform Council. The BCA called for this, but there is a long way to go before the council is fully up and running with sufficient staff.

“It is pleasing COAG published the reform council’s second annual report. We look forward to analysing future council reports, in particular its assessments of national partnership agreements to ensure the states are fully accountable.

“Business will be looking for COAG to demonstrate in the months ahead it is responding to the issues raised in the COAG Reform Council’s annual report, and its subsequent reviews of reform progress.

“COAG can put Australia on a stronger path to recovery and future productivity, or it can condemn us to underperformance for years to come. Business supports COAG to achieve its objectives, but it must focus on outcomes rather than more agreements to deliver outcomes,” she said.