Ex premiers call for another year of national cabinet over COAG

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday May 28, 2020

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Two former premiers have called for the national cabinet to continue for at least another year, warning Australian leaders not to waste the opportunity for a better future.

In an opinion piece published by Guardian Australia on Wednesday, ex South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former New South Wales premier Mike Baird said the national cabinet has proven the federal and state governments can work cooperatively in the national interest.

They argued the regular virtual meetings between the prime minister, premiers, and chief ministers “stands in stark contrast to the painful inertia of so many COAG meetings where good intentions and grand ideas went to die”.

“Feeding into that process have been disparate interests from business to unions to the community sector, that have been given real access and influence as the national cabinet has had to resolve difficult problems in real time,” they wrote.

Labor’s Weatherill and the Liberal’s Baird warned against leaders returning to the old, pre-pandemic ways, which could damage public trust and throw away a rare opportunity to build a brighter future.

“We are calling for the national cabinet to be retained for at least the next 12 months as an ongoing model for real federal and state cooperation, and tasking it with building a federal (as opposed to national) economic plan, identifying state and regional priority industries and working across layers of government and civil society to identify need and distress,” they wrote.

“The Westminster system is hard-wired for vertical accountability, but it struggles with complexity, diversity and collaboration. A national cabinet that deliberately includes all leaders and external perspectives provides an opportunity to overcome some of these key challenges.”

But a debate over state borders could put the group’s success at risk, as conflicting views over the reopening of schools threatened to do earlier on in Australia’s response to the pandemic.

Scott Morrison on Wednesday criticised the states that have firmly kept their borders closed, but argued the national cabinet has generally remained civil.

“I mean, the national cabinet has worked together extremely well to manage Australia through this crisis. Yeah sure there’s some issues at the moment about borders down there and whether it’s Western Australia or Queensland or South Australia or Tasmania. Those states make their own decisions on those issues,” he said.

“The expert medical advice at a national level never recommended internal borders within Australia. And it’s not good for the economy, particularly as we go into this next school holiday season. Those tourism businesses need that support.

“So those individual states, they’ll have to justify those decisions themselves and, because it wasn’t something that came out of national cabinet. But if you look across the broad scheme of what national cabinet has done and how they’ve worked together, they’ve got more in agreement than not.”

He said it would be “naive” and “unrealistic” to assume the group would agree on everything.

The national cabinet’s next meeting on Friday will look at potential federation and tax system reform.

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