Opinion | The Gauge
There will be people reading this article who have never heard of Premiers Conferences.
They were meetings of the Premiers of the six states and the Prime Minister held annually before the federal budget, usually in June or early July, in the middle of the Canberra winter.
They were very unsophisticated affairs; the Commonwealth had all the money and the Premiers wanted their share.
The Premiers would arrive in Canberra on the Thursday afternoon and the general rule in the Canberra press gallery was better to catch certain Premiers before dinner rather than after.
Premiers conferences were predictable affairs.
The normal routine commenced with a Commonwealth official pushing a letter of offer under the hotel door of state officials sometime in the early hours of the Friday morning giving the Premiers very little time to consider it.
The conference would proceed, a done deal, and the Premiers would return home publicly claiming victory but privately conceding defeat.
After one Premiers conference the then Federal Treasurer, John Howard, bragged to a journalist, Peter Bowers, that he had outsmarted the Premiers and saved a considerable amount of funds for the federal government.
Bowers wrote the story, the states reacted accordingly and armed with the Howard evidence forced the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, to adopt a more transparent approach.
It was the Hawke Government that began the process of engaging with the states across a range of matters that led to a modern structure the Council of Australian Governments or COAG.
COAG first met in 1992 with Prime Minister Keating in the chair.
But COAG became bogged down by process; committees, taskforces and working groups, papers, studies and reports.
Reforms were very slow coming and often compromised by consensus.
In March this year governments were confronted with coronavirus; a challenge beyond the capacity of existing political and administrative structures to manage.
Related reading: COAG abolished, national cabinet here to stay
Its membership; the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers of the States and Territories.
The National Cabinet has bound the federation around a science-based strategy to respond to coronavirus.
The National Cabinet has also given the states and territories direct and coordinated access to Canberra and, importantly, to senior officers from key Commonwealth agencies such as the Federal Treasury and the Reserve Bank.
The result has been an informed national debate and a largely agreed national plan.
The National Cabinet has also facilitated a relatively transparent process with a comprehensive statement I think we are up to coronavirus update 19 and a press conference, at least with the Prime Minister, after each meeting.
The ongoing role for the National Cabinet has the potential to drive further, very important, reforms.
A simple example: the layers of legislation, regulations and codes across the three tiers of government that relate to agriculture impose a heavy burden on the sector, often dont deliver the intended outcome and very often work against the competitiveness of Australian agricultural exports.
The policy solution is to harmonize these laws across all jurisdictions a national system for national industries and national businesses - but that needs a high level of cooperation; not something easily found in the history of the Council of Australian Governments, COAG.
The next test for this new structure will be to rebuild the economy.
A key component of the foundations that will underpin the recovery of the Australian economy is confidence: consumer confidence to spend and business confidence to investment.
That confidence will flow from a Prime Minister and state leaders with a clear national plan and unwavering commitment to deliver that plan.
The National Cabinet might just get us there.
- Troy Setter is the Chief Executive Officer of the Consolidated Pastoral Company