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Photo to go with article on new National Cabinet

Why an ongoing National Cabinet is vital to our country

The announcement of a permanent continuation of National Cabinet is more than just a positive flow-on effect of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the ongoing collaboration between state and federal governments that the country has sorely needed and which the Coalition of Australian Governments has failed to deliver.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the country’s continued progress out of coronavirus lockdown and also the replacement of COAG with a National Cabinet that would meet at least monthly, most likely using video conferencing.

“It’s a much more flexible way of working … it gets rid of so much of the formalities and staging that is around these events,” The ABC reported Mr Morrison as saying.

“We want to streamline those endless meetings so we can bring it back to one focus: creating jobs out of the back of this crisis.

“We think that will ensure Australians get better government, more focused government, at a state and federal level.

The success over the past two months of a temporary National Cabinet, which was convened around the COVID-19 crisis and which has sometimes met several times a week, has put Mr Morrison in a position to make changes that were previously explored by predecessors of both political persuasions.

Kevin Rudd, for instance, carried out significant work on trying to repair Federal and State relationships around finances, but was hindered by the ever-present vertical fiscal imbalance (that is the Commonwealth’s ability to raise revenue in excess of its expenditure).

Tony Abbott also attempted sweeping federation reforms across policy areas such as education, health and housing but this work was later abandoned by Malcolm Turnbull.

Both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott had contended with inherently strained relationships between the various levels of government at a time when the Federal Government was unwilling to cede complete control to states on policy development. This, in turn, contributed to the only patchy success of COAG.

But COVID-19 has forced States and their Federal counterparts to work together and make important and constructive decisions in a way that many of us won’t have seen in our lifetimes.

It has also provided Mr Morrison with a platform to end the 28-year experiment with COAG (which, in turn, had replaced the old Premiers’ Conferences).

Whereas COAG was unwieldy and taxing on the time of bureaucrats – there were scores of working groups attached to it – the ongoing National Cabinet promises to be nimble, responsive and progressive.

The National Cabinet should cut through the administrative burden associated previously with State-Federal relations and allow leaders and decision-makers to get on with key reforms (industrial relations will be a big one) that will be needed to fast-track Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

We look forward to seeing its progress.

Jennifer Kirk is an Associate Director in Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team and spent more than seven years in Canberra working for the Commonwealth Department of Finance, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Commonwealth Treasury. If you need help mapping out your government engagement, contact Jennifer.

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