Indigenous Commitments Welcome but Economic Reform Lags

The Business Council of Australia welcomes the agreement by COAG today to step up efforts to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage, but concerns remain that progress in the vital business deregulation agenda is slipping.

The BCA acknowledges the leadership of the Rudd Government in driving significant reforms of COAG. But greater transparency and accountability in COAG processes is required to provide confidence that significant promises can be delivered.

“COAG leaders should be congratulated for coming together to tackle Indigenous disadvantage. This is an important issue for the BCA and one that needs a coordinated focus if better outcomes are to be achieved and maintained,” BCA Deputy Chief Executive Melinda Cilento said.

“But COAG must deliver on its broader economic reform agenda. COAG will be judged not by incremental steps, but by its effectiveness in fully completing the reforms within the timeframes it has set for itself,” Ms Cilento said.

“While COAG remains committed to a seamless economy for business regulation, the BCA is concerned that slippage is emerging on interim milestones required to harmonise key areas including occupational health and safety, transport regulation and development assessments.

“The BCA acknowledges that COAG has met interim milestones for progressing the harmonisation of product safety laws and the registration of business names, two important areas on the seamless economy agenda.

“However, progress also remains slow in key reform areas that impact on the business environment including water and energy reform, and the removal of state taxes under the GST agreement.

“The BCA believes cooperative federalism is the best means of achieving microeconomic reform outcomes that straddle state and territory borders,” she said.

“The structural changes to COAG processes over the past year have laid the foundations for achieving major reforms, but the house is not built yet. More work is needed before full confidence can be placed in COAG to deliver the microeconomic reform agenda.”

The BCA would like to see:

  • The release publicly of agendas in advance of COAG meetings.
  • More effective reporting and publication of progress and outcomes particularly relating to the notification of work programs and timetables.

The review of ministerial councils by Dr Allan Hawke, to report by November this year, will be important in clarifying the role of these bodies in relation to the ministerial working groups and should enhance accountability and transparency in COAG progress.

The BCA welcomes the focus on participation in education and skill attainment in the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions. The priority given to supporting opportunities for apprentices and to retain and further develop relevant workplace skills is important to business.

“As the BCA highlighted earlier this year the progress COAG makes over the next 12 months will determine Australia’s prosperity for the next decade. Slippage now will impede our ability to restore faster rates of economic growth,” Ms Cilento said.