Environmental regulation, the post-Holden future and indigenous kids were on the agenda for Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s first COAG.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reached a deal with the states and territories to cut red and green tape for major projects in a bid to super-charge the national economy.
Mr Abbott on Friday chaired his first Council of Australian Governments meeting, flanked by a majority of Liberal party premiers.
He secured the signatures of all Liberal and Labor state and territory leaders on memorandums of understanding to streamline environmental assessments and approvals for major projects.
NSW and Queensland went a step further, signing agreements to take over the assessment process.
Mr Abbott said he ultimately wanted the states and territories conduct both the assessment and approval processes.
“(This will provide) the same high standard of environmental approval but much less red and green tape, much less paperwork for the applicant and a much swifter outcome we hope, which means more investment and more jobs,” Mr Abbott said.
Greens senator and environmental lawyer Larissa Waters said the deals, which abolished safeguards put in place by Labor three decades ago, would fast-track damage to World Heritage areas.
“If states had this power in the past, the Franklin River would be dammed, cattle would be grazing in the Alpine National Park and there would be oil rigs on the Great Barrier Reef,” Senator Waters said.
With the issue of Holden’s 2017 production shutdown taking up much of the talks, Mr Abbott said the best thing he and the states could do is cut regulation, lower taxes and improve productivity.
The COAG singled out four areas for further work in reducing red tape: manufacturing, higher education, early childhood and small business.
However, one of the deregulation measures put in place by the former Labor federal government – the National Occupational Licensing Authority – will be abolished in early 2014.
Liberal premiers argued a single national licensing scheme – for such trades as electricians, plumbers, real estate agents and builders – was good in principle but badly executed by Labor.
Talks were held on how Abbott government’s national paid parental leave scheme would cover state public sector employees, as well as cost-sharing arrangements.
The leaders agreed to lift indigenous school attendance by setting new benchmarks, publishing attendance data, putting in place truancy officers and conducting on-the-spot audits.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said attendance rates were “appalling” and having an impact on the economy.
“In the development of Northern Australia in particular, we need to make sure we have a solid workforce for the future, and on current projections we don’t have that solid workforce coming through,” he said.
Governments involved in national disability insurance scheme trials agreed to report in March on progress and show how they are “fiscally sustainable”.
The next COAG due in April will examine schools funding and overseas adoptions.