COAG agreement a win for business

By: Mitch Gaynor


The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to push ahead with plans to create a "seamless national economy" through initiatives

The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to push ahead with plans to create a "seamless national economy" through initiatives including harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws.

Other significant reforms for business included new rules allowing interstate movement of tradespeople, standard business reporting mechanisms and standardised environmental assessment and approval processes.

The COAG ‘communique’ released yesterday states the "reforms will make life simpler for businesses and consumers, while continuing to provide the necessary protections and access for consumers and the community".

The harmonisation of occupational health and safety regimes has long been identified as a key issue for business, with the inconsistencies of current approaches resulting in unnecessary cost and complexity, particularly for those businesses that operate across jurisdictions.

COAG recognised legitimate concerns about workplace safety and reaffirmed its requirement that there be no reduction or compromise in workplace safety.

COAG has also agreed to develop a national trade licensing system that will remove inconsistencies across state borders and allow for a much more mobile workforce.

Under current arrangements, an array of occupational trades is licensed to varying requirements in each State.

COAG’s agreement will result in a new national system that will be signed off by COAG in December 2008.

The system will see a national approach to the licensing of a range of economically important trades. COAG has agreed that the national system will initially apply to the following trades:
  • air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics occupations;
  • building occupations;
  • electrical occupations;
  • land transport occupations (passenger vehicle drivers, dangerous goods);
  • maritime occupations;
  • plumbing occupations; and
  • property agent occupations.


Small Business Minsiter Craig Emerson says the initiative will result in 800 work-related licences reduced to 100.

Business name registration

COAG has also agreed to a new Business Names Registration system.

The Commonwealth will establish a one-stop online shop for businesses to interact with government, that will mean businesses can apply for their business name and Australian Business Number in one step.

Once the system is in operation, businesses operating in more than one State will no longer need to register separately in each jurisdiction, leading to significant savings in registration fees.

The system will also provide an interface for improved interactions between business and government, placing information needed by business operators in one place, regardless of their location.

Standard business reporting

A new Standard Business Reporting program was also agreed by COAG that will radically streamline the myriad of financial reporting requirements on businesses.
It will provide a new online reporting channel to government.

The Commonwealth is committing $243 million to this program over four years. Standard Business
Reporting will save business around $800 million each year once it is fully implemented.

Consumer product safety

COAG also made moves to streamline processes associated with ensuring the safety of consumer products.

COAG has agreed that the Commonwealth will assume responsibility for the making of permanent product bans and standards under the Trade Practices Act 1974.

States will retain powers to issue interim product bans.

Conveyancing

A new electronic conveyancing system is to commence in 2010.

It will provide an efficient national platform to settle property transactions, lodge instruments with land registries and meet associated duty and tax obligations electronically through a national system.

The system is anticipated to reduce substantially costs to business through reduced delays and expense associated with transferring title, simplification processes, elimination of costs and complexities of dealing with eight different systems and increased accuracy in transactions.

The Productivity Commission has estimated that the consumer policy framework reforms alone could provide a net gain to the community of between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion a year, through more effective consumer laws and better enforcement, and increasing productivity and innovation, through reducing compliance costs for business and increasing consumer confidence.

COAG has also agreed to a number of priority areas for competition reform, covering anti-dumping, parallel importation of books, rationalisation of occupational licences, national transport policy and further reforms to infrastructure access, with implementation plans to be considered in October 2008.

The Commonwealth will request the Productivity Commission to undertake reviews of Australia’s anti-dumping system and parallel import restrictions on books.

The financial impacts of the reforms related to the seamless national economy, including on States’ revenue and costs, will be calculated and incorporated in the overall finalisation of financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. Furthermore, the Commonwealth will make incentive payments in respect of major progress on regulatory reform.

Queensland

The Commonwealth will provide up to $510 million towards Queensland’s priority projects, subject to due diligence.

The Queensland Government is ready to roll-out community level irrigation planning and infrastructure investment.

The Commonwealth will provide up to $115 million to assist Queensland with this project.

Sunwater is currently planning the modernisation of its delivery system to reduce water loss and the Commonwealth will contribute up to $40 million to assist the modernisation process.

The use of coal seam gas water, currently having to be dealt with as a significant waste management issue, is a potential significant water resource.

The Commonwealth will provide $5 million for the conduct of a detailed feasibility study to examine the viability of using coal seam gas water as an alternate water resource.

In addition to these infrastructure projects, the Commonwealth will provide up to $350 million for the future purchase of water entitlements from willing sellers in the Queensland section of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Together, these initiatives will deliver long lasting benefits to Murray-Darling Basin communities in Queensland and downstream.

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