Monday, April 09, 2012


COAG stands for the Council of Australian Governments. In theory, this is the platform that allows the Commonwealth, states and territories to get together to discuss things. The COAG web site (link earlier) describes its role in these terms:

The role of COAG is to initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms that are of national significance and which require cooperative action by Australian governments (for example, health, education and training, Indigenous reform, early childhood development, housing, microeconomic reform, climate change and energy, water reform and natural disaster arrangements). Issues may arise from, among other things: Ministerial Council deliberations; international treaties which affect the States and Territories; or major initiatives of one government (particularly the Australian Government) which impact on other governments or require the cooperation of other governments.

Sounds good? Well, read on.

COAG is supported by a COAG Reform Council. It's mission is describe in these terms:

To assist COAG to drive its reform agenda by strengthening public accountability of governments through independent and evidence-based assessment and performance reporting.

This to sounds good. The reality is a little different, This is reflected in a recent Council press release calling on COAG to act on Council reports, as well as in press reports on statements by Council Paul McClintock AO. Mr McClintock has suggested that Australian Governments get on with it.

COAG cannot work in any effective way until two primary problems are overcome.

First, COAG suffers from the Rudd disease. It tries to do too much.

Part of COAG's role is to provide a forum for discussion and information exchange. But when it comes to action, COAG is too centralised, too bureaucratic, too overloaded with action items to actually do much.

The second problem impeding COAG operations is the dominance of a Federal Government that always tries to dictate, to impose its will, along with a myriad of performance and reporting requirements. For some obscure reason, the states and territories resist. Rubric such as "cooperative federalism" or "national partnerships" cannot conceal the practical reality.

Can COAG change? Can it be made to work?

Don't hold your breath. I can see no evidence that the Commonwealth is actually prepared to prioritise, let alone engage in proper discussion. COAGulation rules!        


Rummuser said...

The Indian federal situation is undergoing some radical changes with the national parties losing out to regional ones and the states asking for more consultations and independence. Since the central government has to depend on coalition partners to survive, the pulls and pressures are finally achieving a level of delegation that so far has eluded the country. Quite whether this is a good thing is a moot point but that is the direction that the country is heading towards.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a very interesting comment, Ramana, for it shows the political dynamics of federalism at work. I know far less than I should about the actual structure of the Indian Federation.

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