National Federation Reform Council Statement

Media statement
11 Dec 2020
Prime Minister

Today the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC), comprising the Prime Minister, Premiers, Chief Ministers, Treasurers and President of the Australian Local Government Association, held its inaugural meeting, in Canberra.

The NFRC reflected on the achievements of Australian governments and the Australian community in 2020, working together to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19, save lives, keep Australians in work and business in business.

Australia’s health and economic position at the end of 2020 should give Australians cause for optimism and hope. We have a plan for national reopening. Work is underway to accelerate growth now and into the future. While the risk of further outbreaks will remain until a vaccine is in use, and the economic recovery will be long and hard, Australia is among a small handful of countries leading in terms of both health and economic outcomes heading into 2021.

This response has been delivered by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments working together through National Cabinet. National Cabinet has met 32 times since it was established on 13 March 2020, and has worked hand-in-glove with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) to steer the country safely and successfully through the pandemic.

National Cabinet has reformed and rationalised the intergovernmental architecture to follow this model. It has established:

  • National Cabinet Reform Committees to support National Cabinet’s job creation agenda,
  • the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC) and NFRC Taskforces to deal with priority federation issues that fall outside National Cabinet’s job creation remit, and
  • Ministers’ Meetings that are more agile and responsive, significantly reducing bureaucracy and red tape.

Following on from this year’s success, there is a big program of work to continue next year through the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) and the National Cabinet Reform Committees.

National Cabinet has stood-up and identified reform priorities for five of the six National Cabinet Reform Committees, and each of these committees will bring forward reform proposals to National Cabinet in 2021. National Cabinet will also receive reform proposals from CFFR next year, and identify reform priorities for the final National Cabinet Reform Committee – on Population and Migration.

The National Federation Reform Council will meet again in late 2021.

Mental Health

Dr Stephen King, presiding Commissioner for the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Mental Health, and Ms Christine Morgan, National Suicide Prevention Adviser, provided updates on their recent reports.

NFRC acknowledged many of the findings are not new and reform is overdue. The PC Review provides a sombre and detailed picture of a system that is fragmented, complex to navigate for Australians and their families and carers, and not sufficiently focused on prevention and early intervention. The cost to Australia of mental illness is up to $600 million every day. Ms Morgan’s report is informed by the voices of more than 2,000 Australians with lived experience of suicidal behaviour and similarly points to the need for a more compassionate and comprehensive system that acts early to support Australians in distress. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System interim report also highlights the need for a more consumer-centred system.

NFRC also acknowledged the work of all jurisdictions to support Australians’ mental health in response to the significant, and often cumulative, challenges for Australians including drought, bushfires and COVID-19.  These challenges have amplified the need to improve our mental health and suicide prevention system to address increased levels of mental illness, and increased levels of suicidal risk, self-harm and distress. While a range of measures have been put in place to address the immediate impacts of lockdowns and uncertainty created by COVID-19, the impacts of these challenges are likely to be long-lasting and make further demands on an already stretched mental health system.

Today, NFRC agreed to collaborate on systemic, whole-of-governments reform to deliver a comprehensive, coordinated, consumer-focussed and compassionate mental health and suicide prevention system to benefit all Australians. This will be achieved through a new National Agreement on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention to be negotiated through the Health National Cabinet Reform Committee by the end of November 2021.

Specifically NFRC agreed to:
a.    completing a stocktake of existing government funded mental health programs across all jurisdictions by the end of April 2021, to inform the development of the new National Agreement;
b.    prioritise the development of a National Stigma Reduction Strategy, led by the National Mental Health Commission, in consultation with all levels of government;
c.    building the mental health and suicide prevention literacy and capability of our public sector workforces to ensure services are timely, coordinated and compassionate; and
d.    working with Indigenous people to address social and emotional wellbeing and high Indigenous suicide rates, including in line with the Closing the Gap target of moving the rate towards zero

NFRC agreed the following principles that will underpin whole-of-governments efforts to transform and improve Australia’s mental health system. All jurisdictions will:
a.    work together to build a better mental health and suicide prevention system for all Australians
b.    recognise all governments play a critical role in policy and service delivery across the system
c.    ensure all jurisdictions provide funding to address identified gaps and not duplicate service provision
d.    reduce system fragmentation across prevention, primary and secondary care and specialist settings
e.    establish structures and mechanisms as required to jointly drive planning and reform that supports a stepped care model, addresses the ‘missing middle’ and supports effective early intervention
f.    ensure the particular needs of Australia’s rural and regional communities are equitably addressed
g.    work together on shared funding arrangements for services as appropriate, informed by decisions on roles and responsibilities as part of the new system, and identified gaps based on key inputs such as:

  • final reports from the Productivity Commission, Victorian Royal Commission, the National Mental Health Commission’s Vision 2030, and the National Suicide Prevention Advisor, and
  • the jurisdiction-wide stocktake of mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Emergency management

NFRC reaffirmed that all jurisdictions will collaborate to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (the Royal Commission), through the National Emergency Management Ministers’ Meeting (NEMMM).

Emergency Management Ministers will work with other members of their Governments to implement the Royal Commission recommendations, ensuring the recommendations are comprehensively addressed in a whole-of-governments manner.

Ahead of the 2021-22 high-risk weather season NEMMM will focus on:
a.    the Australian Warning System
b.    the Australian Fire Danger Rating System
c.    Nationally Consistent Pre-Agreed Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements
d.    a review of the path to expeditiously deliver the Public Safety Mobile Broadband
e.    making substantial progress to reform fundraising laws, and
f.    making substantial progress to improve natural disaster risk information to support decision-making such as land-use planning for new development, and the construction code.

Hazard reduction data and information will be shared across jurisdictions to maximise its utility and value for hazard risk reduction.

NFRC Taskforces

NFRC agreed Terms of Reference for the NFRC Taskforces on Women’s Safety, Indigenous Affairs and Veterans’ Wellbeing.

Establishing these NFRC taskforces shows the commitment of all governments to these priority national federation issues.

The Women’s Safety Taskforce will oversee implementation of the Fourth Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 and funding under the COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support Package. The Taskforce will be responsible for developing and implementing the next National Plan, which will commence in 2022.

The terms of reference of the Indigenous Affairs Taskforce are broad, allowing the Taskforce to define its own priorities each year, and invite Indigenous partners and other relevant ministers to its meetings. The existing Joint Council on Closing the Gap will retain its focus on coordination, cooperation, monitoring and reporting on the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The Indigenous Affairs Taskforce will not replace these arrangements.

Supporting veterans’ wellbeing is a priority for all jurisdictions, with each jurisdiction providing various supports and services that can contribute to improving veteran outcomes. It is critical that governments work together to determine how to best improve veteran wellbeing.

Local government representatives will support the taskforces as requested by the chairs.

Local government

Councillor Linda Scott, President of the Australian Local Government Association, provided information on the enormous effort of local governments in 2020 to support communities dealing with the effects of bushfires, drought, and COVID-19. These efforts were recognised by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, and all levels of government looked ahead to the collaborative effort needed in 2021 to support Australia’s economic recovery.

Mental Health

Today, NFRC agreed to a vision for Australia’s future mental health and suicide prevention system (attached) and to collaborate on systemic, whole-of-governments reform to deliver a comprehensive, coordinated, consumer-focussed and compassionate mental health and suicide prevention system to benefit all Australians. 

This will be achieved through a new National Agreement on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention to be negotiated through the Health National Cabinet Reform Committee by the end of November 2021.