National cabinet must set energy policy: former premier

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last month COAG would be superseded by the new national cabinet. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last month COAG would be superseded by the new national cabinet. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

A former state premier has suggested the new national cabinet should set Australia's national energy policy going forward.

The national cabinet was set up as the coronavirus crisis unfolded so Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders could determine how the country responded to the pandemic.

Before, leaders would only meet twice a year at the Council of Australian Governments meetings, which was the primary intergovernmental forum.

Mr Morrison announced last month COAG, as it is known, would be superseded by the national cabinet after the coronavirus crisis subsided.

National cabinet on Friday agreed former Director-General of the Western Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet and former Commonwealth Cabinet Secretary Peter Conran will lead the review of the former COAG Councils and Ministerial Forums to "rationalise and reset" their work.

Recommendations about how the body would work going forward will be handed to national cabinet by September this year.

But speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia forum on Friday, former Victorian Premier John Brumby said the National Cabinet should play a key role in determining Australia's response to climate change.

"There's still no national agreement in relation to the environment and climate change. If you want to pick the one issue that's bedeviled Australia now for more than a decade it's this sort of windscreen wiper approach to climate change and environment policy and we just haven't tackled it, it's been a complete failure of leadership in Australia," Mr Brumby said.

"As a federation, national cabinet is the best place to start and put that together to get a single national approach which I think inevitably is going to involve at some stage a price on carbon and that's a difficult issue for some people in politics but the federation cabinet for the national cabinet is the best place."

However, Mr Brumby said national cabinet would have to be subject to new rules to avoid the failures of COAG.

"Inevitably where COAG failed it was because of the politicisation of issues," Mr Brumby said.

"I think it failed because it became more of a political tool, this sort of chest-beating thing. We saw prime ministers use it in a political way, prime ministers put things on the agenda literally the night before and the states use it as an opportunity for a bit of breast beating.

"There was no ownership by the states, they didn't have a big enough say in the forward agenda of COAG so there was no shared sort of Commonwealth or state ownership. I think COAG, particularly after the election the Abbott government it just lost its direction, it didn't have a clear agenda.

"I was a great believer in COAG and had always been a great believer in the federation and the power of the federation to work together cooperatively but i think the truth is in recent years, I think it was failing, that's the truth. Could it have been revived? It probably could have been revived, with a different set of rules and a different agenda."

Mr Brumby said national cabinet would need a code of conduct to avoid the "chest-beating" problems of the past. It would also need an independent monitor and secretariat.

His comments come after Labor leader Anthony Albanese's olive branch to the Coalition to start bipartisan talks on a new national energy policy appeared to be rejected by minister Josh Frydenberg and Angus Taylor.

"The focus of our energy policy is about affordable energy, reliable energy and bringing down emissions without wrecking the economy and we're kicking goals," Mr Taylor said.

This story National cabinet must set energy policy: former premier first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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