Agreements and Reporting
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Since its establishment in 1992, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has settled and signed a number of intergovernmental agreements. The agreements have signified the commitment of jurisdictions to implement decisions that have been either reached or confirmed by COAG. In many instances, agreements have been the precursor to the passage of legislation. Sometimes this has been Commonwealth legislation, while on other occasions joint Commonwealth and State and Territory legislation has been enacted.
Where COAG has directed Ministerial Councils to carry forward issues on its behalf, there is an expectation that any substantive decisions requiring legislation will be enshrined in intergovernmental agreements. This provides members of COAG with an opportunity to review and scrutinise these ministerial decisions before signing and entering into an agreement at head of government level.
There have been occasions when because of the nature of the issues and the urgency to have legislation in place (some examples being the legislation to restrict the use of human embryos for medical research purposes and handgun bans) the political compact forged at the relevant COAG meeting has not been consolidated through an intergovernmental agreement. However, it must be emphasised that this is the exception rather than the rule. COAG level agreements make clear that the outcomes have head of government support and have greater currency and force than ministerial reports and communiqué text which may not always contain detailed policy and/or operational matters.
There is no single template governing the form of an intergovernmental agreement, but typically agreements are composed of the following elements:
- institutional arrangements, if any;
- ministerial council(s) involvement and any voting arrangements;
- future legislative commitments, if any;
- financial arrangements, if appropriate;
- dispute resolution procedures;
- amendment or variation to the agreement provisions; and
- review provisions and/or a sunset clause, where appropriate.
COAG will sometimes request a report on a particular subject, and upon receiving the report agree to its public release.