COAG reforms dogged by infighting

By Paul Hemsley

The head of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council, Paul McClintock has warned that key cross-jurisdictional projects on occupational health and safety laws (OH&S), director’s liability and energy sector competition are in danger of failing.

The grim assessment has come as part of the watchdog’s third annual report card on what governments are successfully collaborating on – or otherwise.

Mr McClintock has also found that 13 projects will not be able to meet their deadlines while 11 are on track and three have been completed.

The Reform Council report card comes just days ahead of COAG convening for its next meeting on 7th December 2012, where the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and electricity are expected to at the top of the agenda.

Mr McClintock expressed disappointment on ABC Radio that these three reform initiatives, especially in the energy sector, are in jeopardy of breaking down. He said the energy reform agenda is not well articulated and does not have any clear milestones.

The issue of stalled energy market has prompted a war of words over who is to blame for electricity prices between the states and Canberra. A key accusation is that state-owned enterprises are attempting to cling to established utility revenue streams – which some argue is effectively a form of defacto – taxation – rather than embracing reforms that would benefit consumers and businesses.

COAG committed to establishing nationally uniform OH&S laws by December 2011 as the Productivity Commission assessed that multi-state enterprises would save $480 million a year if implemented.

However the reform is at risk because some jurisdictions have not yet enacted a form of the legislation based on model laws or regulations.

The report also cautioned other initiatives are at risk of undergoing significant delays. They included infrastructure, transport, energy efficiency, e-health, remote service delivery and new subacute beds for public hospitals.

Problems in delays in areas such as OH&S and competition reform in the energy sector were discussed in companion COAG Reform Council report titled Seamless National Economy: Report on Performance 2011-12.

This report found that out of 49 competition and regulatory reforms agreed by COAG, eight are in danger of failure while 15 are overdue.

Mr McClintock said the Australian economy could “squander tens of billions of dollars” of growth if the remaining competition and deregulation reforms are further delayed or are not completed.

According to Mr McClintock, the risk of delay in the OH&S reform could have potentially negative consequences on mine safety reform.

“Mining is a big driver of our economy at the moment and any delays in the OH&S and mine safety reforms can have consequences for the whole economy,” Mr McClintock said.

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