Councils sidelined as COAG abolished

Local government is concerned its voice on national decisions will be diminished after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said COAG will be abolished and replaced with the national cabinet.

“COAG is no more,” Mr Morrison told a press conference on Friday.

He said the national cabinet, initially established in response to COVID-19, would hold monthly meetings once the COVID period is over but will meet in person twice a year as COAG used to.

National cabinet will meet with the peak local government body ALGA once a year.

“Once a year the national cabinet will meet together with the treasurers as well as the Australian Local Government Association in a new council which will focus on national federation reform,” he said.

A tragic loss

Australian Local Government Association President David O’Loughlin said the decision was a tragic loss to the national social and economic recovery effort.

“To relegate 537 councils and 6500 elected members to one invitation a year to speak and a room that will be crowded with treasurers and hangers on doesn’t nearly do justice to the work that local government does and can do in the nation’s interest,” he told Government News.

He said ALGA was seeking clarifcation from the PM about its role in the reform councils sitting beneath national cabinet.

Cr O’Loughlin said with responsibility for many of the nation’s roads, sporting and cultural facilities, planning, housing and environmental issues, local government needed a voice.

“There are strong roles for us to be part of and we’ll be make sure that we are integrated into those bodies as we have been in COAG councils for 30 years”

LGAT president Christina Holmdahl said the move would sideline local government from national decision making.

Mayor Christina Holmdahl

“Under the previous arrangement we had a seat at the table at every COAG meeting, so that opportunity has been diminished,” Cr Holmdahl told Government News.

“As a democratically elected sector of government in this country I think it’s a pity that the more than 6,500 people that have been elected don’t get an opportunity to contribute when there are issues pertaining to Australia.

Council fears

Before the announcement local government peaks from each state issued a joint statement demanding a seat at the national cabinet in the event that COAG was killed off.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said the existing COAG arrangement must transfer to national cabinet .

“National cabinet is a powerful body making decisions that affect communities across the country. Councils, as the level of government closest to the community, must be in discussions when decisions are being made,” he said.

MAV President Coral Ross said the best interests of the community were best served when all three levels of government worked in close cooperation.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

LGNSW President, Linda Scott urged State and Territory leaders to advocate on behalf of local government and their communities to ensure their representation is not diminished.

A focus on jobs

Mr Morrison said the post-COVID national cabinet would have a jobs-creating agenda.

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

It will a series of ministerial sub committees in key areas including rural and regional Australia, skills, energy, housing, transport and infrastructure, population, migration and health.

It would work together with treasurers on the Council on Federal Financial Relations to “review and consolidate” existing agreements.

Taskforces established under COAG, including on women’s safety and indigenous affairs, will continue.

However formal regulatory councils created under statute like the disability reform council would be ‘reset’.

“It’s important that ministers at state and federal level talk to each other but they don’t have to do it in such a bureaucratic form with a whole bunch of paperwork attached to it,” Mr Morrison said.

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6 thoughts on “Councils sidelined as COAG abolished

  1. It is significant loss to good governance when local government continue to be excluded from the new National Cabinet, but don’t forget the COALition were never great supporters of some kind of recognition of local government in Australia’s constitution. Don’t hold your breath for a change of hearty any time soon.

  2. What an unbelievably short sited move by our Federal Government. COAG have been doing some excellent groundbreaking work in relation to creating new jobs in the building and construction sector (amongst other things) and helping to transition Australia to a more sustainable economy. The cumulation of the local government and industry bodies working together has been most beneficial and was leading us towards a better future in many aspects.

    So dissappointed in our ‘Leaders’ – bring on the next election.

  3. It is disappointing that local government is not given a seat at the National Cabinet table. Local Government, being the third tier of government, is the usually the one that bears the brunt of many events, circumstances and government policies. Local Government, as a major employer in many locations, can be a key driver in economic reconstruction after emergencies, and given the nature of how it operates, is the prime co-ordinator for many projects that cross local government boundaries. Local government is just that – local to communities. We are tasked with many legislated tasks, yet faced with rate capping. We do not have a say on how much money trickles down to us, but we are at the mercy of state governments.

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