Federation reform sees COAG replaced with national cabinet

By Shannon Jenkins

May 29, 2020


Local government leaders have urged the national cabinet to involve them in meetings if the Council of Australian Governments is to be abandoned.

Following the national cabinet’s Friday meeting Scott Morrison announced the group would continue to operate in the future and would be driven by a “singular agenda” — creating jobs.

“The national cabinet will continue to work with a laser-like mission focused on creating jobs as we come out of the COVID crisis and we work into the years into the future,” he said.

While the group will continue to meet on a fortnightly basis during the pandemic, it will only meet on a monthly basis “in a normal year”.

The PM revealed that COAG would be “replaced by a completely new system”, due to the national cabinet’s success in responding to the coronavirus crisis.

“COAG is no more,” he said.

“One of the things we’ve learned over meeting so regularly [through the national cabinet] is we can work effectively together as we get together using the telepresence facilities which means premiers, particularly for those in the more remote states, have been able to access that engagement on a far more regular basis and it has worked incredibly well.”

Morrison argued meetings between state and federal leaders don’t have to involve “such a bureaucratic form with a whole bunch of paperwork attached to it”.

“They need to talk to each other, share ideas, but the congestion-busting process is simplifying that … They talk because they find value not because of a bureaucratic process,” he said.

“We want to streamline those endless meetings so we can bring it back to one focus: creating jobs.”

He said the national cabinet would take on key issues that COAG has previously handled, including domestic violence and Indigenous affairs.

READ MORE: Ex premiers call for another year of national cabinet over COAG

Councils are represented at COAG through the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), but they are currently not involved in the national cabinet, which is made up of the PM, premiers, and chief ministers. Morrison said the national cabinet would meet with the ALGA once a year, in a new council which would be focused on national federation reform.

Local government leaders from across Australia have called on Morrison to guarantee local representatives get “a seat at the national cabinet table”. Municipal Association of Victoria president Coral Ross argued all three levels of government need to cooperate in order to best serve the community.

“Local governments know their people and communities. Representation at COAG has always been critical to ensuring that citizens and local businesses have their unique economic, social, health and cultural needs represented, heard, and acted on,” she said.

“Reform, as a key objective of the new national cabinet, can only ever be achieved when a strong local government voice and presence is front and centre of any agenda. Reform is never possible unless it includes the voice of those who place the best outcomes of their community at the heart of everything they do. This voice is local government.”

Western Australian LGA president Tracey Roberts noted local government has been represented at COAG as part of a “long-standing and productive arrangement”.

“Local government is the level of government closest to the community and, as such, offers a unique and important perspective that other levels of government simply do not have,” she said.

“Local governments and their local communities cannot be left without a voice when issues that affect all communities are being considered at the national level.”

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