Revitalised COAG Agenda Lays Foundation for Success

Commitments by federal, state and territory leaders at yesterday’s COAG meeting represent significant progress towards a reinvigorated national reform agenda.

BCA President Greig Gailey welcomed these steps, which the BCA believes will provide the foundations for sustained growth and prosperity in Australia.

Mr Gailey said: “The meeting has delivered clear progress in key areas of the national reform agenda including business regulation, federal–state financial arrangements, health and infrastructure.

“The BCA is particularly pleased COAG has agreed on an historic new framework that reflects most of the institutional reforms we had called for in our Charter for New Federalism.

“COAG reforms to business regulation are significant. If implemented as agreed yesterday, they will go a long way to achieving a single set of national business rules – or a seamless economy – by the BCA’s timeframe of 2010,” he said.

Mr Gailey said the meeting yesterday restored COAG to its rightful position and provided the foundation for key reforms that could break short-term logjams to growth and set a course for sustained prosperity.

“The new agenda is challenging, but with clearly stated collective commitments by federal and state governments to achieve reform, business is confident this agenda can now be achieved,” he said.

“The BCA will continue to independently monitor progress in key reform areas to make sure these commitments are matched by genuine progress.”

The BCA provides the following assessment of key aspects of yesterday’s meeting.

A stronger COAG

Strengthening the monitoring role of the COAG Reform Council (CRC) – a key recommendation in the BCA’s Charter for New Federalism and agreed to yesterday by COAG – will provide more accountability and transparency in the delivery of reform outcomes.

COAG’s agreement yesterday that the Productivity Commission report on and assess the council’s reform agenda every two years will provide a welcome and independent oversight of reform benefits.

A seamless system of business regulation

The methodical approach to the prioritisation of reforms, the articulation of clear progress timelines and the means by which greater consistency of regulation will be achieved are all welcome.

The timelines indicate that immediate areas for reform called for in the BCA’s Towards a Seamless Economy paper will be implemented in line with our recommendations. 

While the agenda is already a broad one, indications that further consideration will be given to reinvigorating a national competition policy agenda is also good news for business. This is the issue that the BCA raised almost three years ago.

We welcome the agreement to more than double the number of overlapping or duplicated regulatory areas to be harmonised, including timelines for early action on 12 key areas such as occupational health and safety.

Fixing federal–state financial arrangements

The reform of Commonwealth–state funding arrangements, including streamlining specific purpose payments, will improve spending accountability and incentives for better outcomes.

Improving working arrangements in areas of joint federal–state responsibility, such as transport, regulation, environment, water and early childhood, will also ensure a greater focus on reform delivery.

In particular, the BCA welcomes greater clarity in the accountability of state and federal health responsibilities and funding.

A national plan to improve Australia’s water system

COAG has taken a significant step towards improved national water security through its in-principle agreement yesterday to national water management for the Murray–Darling Basin.

The agreement will further develop the national water market, support more sustainable irrigation practices, help secure water supplies for end users and provide for better environmental management.

A national focus to trade policy

The BCA welcomes the establishment of a Ministerial Council on International Trade. This will ensure trade and investment policies and programs are better aligned to national priorities in meeting new global trade opportunities.

Tackling skills shortages

The BCA welcomes the new high level targets for measuring reforms in Indigenous education and in the vocational education and training sector. Further development of policies to meet these targets is an important priority.