COAG report says reform pace is slowing

The pace of reform to federal-state relations has slowed and needs new momentum to improve the economy and vital public services, a report says.


COAG Reform Council (CRC) chairman John Brumby on Wednesday released a report charting the progress of co-operation between federal, state and territory leaders from 2008 to 2013.

The CRC was set up to monitor the Council of Australian Government’s reform agenda, especially the 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations (IGA).

In its broad findings, the five-year report card concluded: “The pace of reform under the IGA has slowed over time.”

“COAG was successful in developing and agreeing an ambitious reform agenda.

“However, not enough focus was given to … establishing the processes, responsibilities and accountabilities needed to successfully implement reforms.”

The report recommended COAG should routinely meet at least twice a year, agree on a medium-term agenda and put in place meaningful indicators to track progress on agreements.

Federal, state and territory leaders should come to a new agreement on their “roles, responsibilities and accountabilities”.

Lessons learned by governments in rolling out innovative policies and programs should be shared.

Examining specific policy areas, such as education, the national economy, health and indigenous disadvantage, the report found mixed progress over five years.

In education, there had been an improvement in reading in primary years and an increase in Year 12 attainment.

But the proportion of young people engaging in work or study after high school has dropped.

Indigenous employment and labour force participation has fallen over the past five years, while more indigenous children are attaining a Year 12 qualification.

The homelessness rate has risen from 45.2 per 10,000 to 48.9 per 10,000.

In terms of economic policy, productivity has fallen, while real income per capita has risen.

While there have been strong inroads in cutting the rate of cigarette smoking, the rate of adult obesity has risen.

The report found that in the education bureaucracy, as more agreements and partnerships were added over the past five years it had become “less clear which level of government was responsible for outcomes”.

The health system was “fragmented with a complex division of funding responsibilities and performance accountabilities between different levels of government”.

Only half of the targets set by the ambitious Closing the Gap indigenous strategy appeared likely to be met.

CRC chairman John Brumby will talk about the report in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.