Business commends COAG reforms

By Ju Yeon Jung

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has commended the outcomes of the 24th Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting, saying the long-awaited reforms would finally help cut border red tape and lift the efficiency of government services.

Held against a backdrop of bleak market conditions, the meeting’s dominant theme was achieving the balance between the short-term resolutions to counter the financial crisis and the longer-term national imperatives for boosting productivity and service delivery.

Key decisions made at the meeting included linking of Specific Purpose Payments to policy outcomes while cutting the number from 96 to five, as well as additional payments (National Partnerships) for priority outcomes.

The newly-signed Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) is also expected to enable a unified framework for the federal-state financial relations, triggering reforms in areas including payroll tax, trades licensing and occupational health and safety.

The BCA said the meeting demonstrated much-needed leadership to elicit better outcomes in health, education and business regulation at a crucial moment.

“The BCA commends the COAG partners for their continued progress towards a ‘seamless economy’ where differences between states do not disrupt business activity,” BCA chief executive Katie Lahey said.

“This commitment to reforms that build the productive capacity of the economy can provide a timely boost to business confidence.”

The BCA applauded the COAG’s renewed focus on education, specifically the $550 million funding commitment to recognising and rewarding teachers, as well as the education National Partnership to inject $1.1 billion to the public schools in lower socio-economic communities.

“The BCA spelt out the need to pay Australia’s best teachers better in its March 2008 Teaching Talent report. The initiative to invest in the development of leadership skills for principals and aspiring principals is another important step to achieving improved learning outcomes for students.

“Far too many young Australians are not learning skills that are needed to participate fully in our workplaces,” Ms Lahey said.

While the reform initiatives signalled a turn towards efficiency and productivity, she said it was important that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged there was much remained to be achieved in the COAG process.

“Challenges await COAG on issues including water, emissions trading and infrastructure.

“The increase in accountability delivered at this meeting places an important burden on COAG and the COAG Reform Council to monitor progress towards outcomes,” she said.

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