The Council of Australian Governments held its 37th meeting today in Canberra. The Leaders welcomed the New South Wales Premier, the Hon Mike Baird MP, and Tasmanian Premier, the Hon Will Hodgman MP, to their first COAG meeting.
Investment in infrastructure that improves productivity and unlocks economic growth, including in regional economies, is a priority for all governments.
Recognising the crucial role of infrastructure in driving national productivity and competitiveness, all governments signed a new agreement on Asset Recycling. The Commonwealth will provide incentive payments to the States and Territories to privatise assets and reinvest proceeds into new infrastructure. Details on the specific asset sales and investments that qualify will be negotiated between the Commonwealth and each State and Territory.
Improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians
COAG noted early evidence of success in the work of all jurisdictions working with communities to improve school attendance of Indigenous children. But there is still more to do.
COAG agreed the new five-year target of Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance, and to ensure it is met, COAG agreed to:
- the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, in partnership with communities, developing specific strategies by no later than 31 October 2014, to improve school attendance where the attendance rate for Indigenous children is below 80 per cent;
- each State and Territory monitoring Indigenous students’ attendance rates in schools where they are below 80 per cent at least every month;
- each State and Territory undertaking on-the-spot audits of school attendance information before the end of the year; and
- public reporting of school attendance information, recognising privacy issues, later in 2014, and then twice yearly from 2015 onwards.
COAG also agreed to work more closely with Indigenous communities and take practical approaches to target action and investment to agreed local priorities. As a result, communities and local leaders should be more engaged and better able to share the responsibility for setting priorities and improving outcomes in their own communities.
Intercountry adoption of children
Adopting a child from overseas is an emotional and complex undertaking.
Different requirements across Australia can create even more difficulty for families wanting to adopt a child from overseas.
COAG supports adoption conducted in the best interests of the child and consistent with the safeguards of the Hague Convention.
COAG agreed in principle to the Commonwealth’s proposal to provide a new national intercountry adoption service for all Australians wanting to adopt a child from overseas.
Under the new service, the Commonwealth will fund either a new accredited non-government organisation or organisations, or a Commonwealth agency, to provide services for intercountry adoption by early 2015.
The Commonwealth and the States and Territories will work closely together to make sure there is a smooth transition to the new system.
National Disability Insurance Scheme
All governments remain committed to the full-scheme roll out of the NDIS, which will be informed by the important lessons being learnt from trials. COAG noted recent reports from the NDIS Board that costs in the trials are coming down.
COAG noted the Board of the National Disability Insurance Agency has commissioned a report on full scheme transition, and will advise governments in June on how best to proceed with the rollout.
COAG agreed to list the NDIS as a standing agenda item for all COAG meetings.
Paid Parental Leave
Recognising the importance of a national paid parental leave scheme to families, COAG considered a funding model for States’ and Territories’ financial contribution to the new national PPL Scheme.
COAG agreed States and Territories will work with the Commonwealth on interactions between the Commonwealth’s scheme and existing State and Territory schemes.
COAG noted the scheme will be legislated, and agreed the final model will involve no additional net cost to the States and Territories, and its details will be settled following passage of the legislation.
Reducing red tape remains an ongoing priority for all governments. The burden on small business in particular must be urgently addressed.
Each jurisdiction will target specific small business sectors, with reforms to reduce regulation in the following areas to be brought back to the next COAG meeting: housing and commercial building and construction, road freight, exporters, food and dairy manufacturing, fish processing, agriculture, tourism business licensing, cafes and restaurants, clothing retail, eco-lodge and marine tour operators and native title in mining, gas and exploration.
Further action in the manufacturing sector was also agreed. All States and Territories will work with the Commonwealth to streamline the assessment and controls on industrial chemicals by the end of the year; New South Wales will work to reduce red tape in print manufacturing, and Victoria in beef processing and advanced manufacturing, and, along with South Australia, dairy processing.
Duplication of regulatory compliance effort is a source of much frustration.
In the higher education sector, COAG agreed to remove duplicative reporting requirements so that universities provide the same information to governments once. COAG noted that New South Wales and Queensland are interested in transferring their responsibilities for university regulation to the Commonwealth.
COAG also agreed to look closely at improving the performance of regulators and the benefits of consolidating regulatory functions, including through the amalgamation of regulators, so that businesses, community organisations and individuals need to interact with as few regulatory bodies as is necessary.
COAG welcomed progress on the one-stop-shop for environmental approvals. Governments are making best efforts to finalise negotiations on approval bilateral agreements by September 2014, and by the end of 2014 with Victoria.
In addition, all governments agreed to investigate ways in which model work health and safety laws could be improved to reduce red tape and make it easier for businesses and workers to comply with their work health and safety responsibilities.
White Papers on the Reform of the Federation and Taxation Reform
COAG considered draft Terms of Reference for the Commonwealth’s White Paper on the Reform of the Federation and draft themes for the White Paper on Taxation Reform, both to be completed by the end of 2015.
COAG agreed there are opportunities to ensure Australia’s federation and tax system are both functioning well, supporting a strong, dynamic economy and delivering effective services to the community.
All governments committed to work closely and collaboratively on both White Papers. A Steering Committee, chaired by the Commonwealth and involving all States and Territories and the Australian Local Government Association, will be established to oversee the development of the Federation White Paper.
Industry, Investment and Competitiveness
Following the recent announcement of the Commonwealth, Victorian and South Australian Governments’ ongoing collaboration with industry to establish and deliver support to affected workers and businesses associated with the automotive manufacturing industry, COAG noted the increased funding from the Commonwealth to the $155 million Growth Fund as a further step in providing support to address impacts that withdrawal of the major automotive manufacturers will have on national and State and Territory economies.
COAG noted the Growth Fund will ensure valuable skills are not lost to the economy, and affected firms and regions can pursue new product, market and business development opportunities. Workers will be supported with access to employment services and training to best assist them to gain ongoing employment. The Fund will build on substantial infrastructure investments to support regional economies in Victoria and South Australia to adjust to the withdrawal of automotive manufacturing in those States and Territories. COAG agreed the role of governments is to continue to create the conditions for businesses to adapt and compete effectively and to assist workers to develop the skills they need to adjust to new opportunities.
COAG also noted the Commonwealth is preparing an Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda for release in the middle of the year.
COAG agreed to discuss schools funding at its next meeting.