20/12/2007 - 12:39

COAG to establish working groups to drive reform

20/12/2007 - 12:39

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Prime minister Kevin Rudd and the premiers have agreed at today's Council of Australian Governments meeting to set up several working groups to drive policy reform.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd and the premiers have agreed at today's Council of Australian Governments meeting to set up several working groups to drive policy reform.

Mr Rudd said COAG had agreed to establish seven working groups covering health and ageing, education, climate change and water, infrastructure, business deregulation and competition, housing, and indigenous reform.

COAG will not set up a working group on labour shortages, which WA premier Alan Carpenter raised as the number one issue for the state, but there was agreement to pursue this issue.

The chamber of commerce and industry of WA considered this an encouraging step, since labour shortages did not rate as an issue during the federal election.

CCI chief executive John Langoulant said in a statemnent that today's recognition by the State and Federal Governments of Western Australia's severe labour shortages was an important first step.

Mr Carpenter and Mr Rudd have agreed to hold further talks in the New Year to examine ways to alleviate the issue.

"CCI congratulates Mr Carpenter for raising the issue with the Prime Minister and convincing him of the need for urgent action at today's COAG meeting," Mr Langoulant said.

"The state's peak business and employer group is pleased further high level government talks will be held in early 2008 to examine ways to alleviate the labour supply burden on local business and industry. CCI is hopeful the talks will result in immediate action."

"This is a significant development and CCI encourages the State and Federal Governments to include WA business in its discussions to ensure the needs and interests of local employers are met."

Each of the seven working groups will be chaired by the relevant federal minister, with a state government acting as deputy chair in each group.

"Today, after extensive discussion and debate, we agreed on seven working groups," Mr Rudd told reporters in Melbourne.

"This is a new model for the way in which we do business. Usually these things are devolved entirely to commonwealth bureaucrats."

Mr Rudd said his ministers had been instructed to help drive reform in key policy areas.

Mr Rudd also announced $150 million to implement Labor's election commitment to reduce elective surgery waiting lists by 25,000 people.

"Today what we've done is provide a commitment to the states and territories combined of additional commonwealth funding of $150 million dollars for calender 2008 to secure that objective," Mr Rudd said.

The state and federal treasurers and health ministers would meet next month to finalise the details, Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd said out of the $150 million, $50 million was on top of money already promised.

Mr Rudd said as a matter of priority, the commonwealth would also provide an extra $50 million towards drug and alcohol rehabilitation for indigenous communities.

He said it was a matter of priority to supplement existing programs in the delivery of alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, most acutely in remote areas.

"This is a pressing need now, particularly where interventions have occurred in relation to alcohol."

COAG has agreed to meet on a quarterly basis in 2008 and major announcements would not be made at each meetings. Instead it would become part of the working machinery of the nation, Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd said a major area of reform would be special purpose payments, which the commonwealth wanted to link more closely to the performance of states and territories.

Incentive payments for making improvements would be made by the commonwealth, he said.

"Special purpose payments (SPP) are part of the deep structure, folklore and mysticism of commonwealth-state relations," Mr Rudd said.

"We want to see the SPPs rationalised in the future, we want to see the SPPs - special purpose payments - increasingly reflect a combination of outcomes and outputs so that people can measure whether the money which is being invested is actually delivering real and improved services for the Australian community.

"And secondly, consistent with that new measured approach, we the commonwealth are prepared to embrace incentive payments for the states. And that is a departure from the past."

Western Australia Premier Alan Carpenter said labour supply was a specifically difficult issue for his state.

"We raised the issue of migration. This is a matter the federal government is aware of in Western Australia," Mr Carpenter said.

"There are some great sensitivities about this issue and has to be dealt with properly, thoughtfully and the way this is going to become productive.

"As the result of our discussion I think we can do that with the specific needs of Western Australia that need to be met in my view for the benefit of the entire economy, so we have to do it properly."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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