time to make COAG less of a drag

Paul McClintock: time to get on with it

Urgent action should be taken to reactivate the Council of Australian Government, especially to tackle reform to the national health system, the ”most significant set of policy decisions in front of government today”, a senior COAG official said.

Paul McClintock, the chairman of the COAG Reform Council and the chairman of Medibank Private, criticised the Prime Minister for not having a COAG meeting since April.

Mr McClintock told a gathering in Sydney of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia that of all the challenges posed by an ageing population, ”the thing that is really most dangerous to us is the health system”.

With health reforms set to dominate Monday’s meeting between Julia Gillard and the state and territory leaders, Mr McClintock called on the politicians to reaffirm the importance of COAG and agree to meet more often.

”With the recent political changes and the 10-month hiatus in COAG meetings, some players are now unsure whether there is a strong political commitment to doing business.

”There has been a delay in considering the reports because COAG hasn’t met since April and one hopes that in this year we’ll see a more active program and we will not see those sorts of delays.”

More broadly, Mr McClintock said the incursion of federal government into traditional state responsibilities such as health and infrastructure had opened a ”Pandora’s Box” and blurred the lines of accountability in the mind of the public.

A shift towards greater Commonwealth funding of urban infrastructure was a good example of how the lines had blurred. ”Now few major projects are started by a state without reliance on federal grants. The citizen has greater uncertainty as to which level of government is responsible for infrastructure delivery, or even whether an announced project will ever be funded.”

Mr McClintock dismissed the suggestion that the rise of Liberal governments in Victoria and potentially NSW would stymie the COAG agenda.

”New and fresh heads of government should bring renewed energy and focus to the combined task, and as long as everyone understands that this competition must also serve the national interest, and be focused in areas where real innovation will serve all Australians, then we should not be fearful of the changes in membership.”

SMH, “PM urged to cooperate with states over health”, 10 February 2011.

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