COAG finds agreement on terrorism but still looking for common direction on tax

COAG leaders have pushed out any decision on tax until their next meeting in March 2016. David Moir/AAP

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has won state and territory support for a plan to hold those convicted of terrorism offences indefinitely if they are still considered to pose a high risk to the community.

A court would have to approve the extended imprisonment, which would be subject to ongoing reviews and appeal mechanisms.

The initiative builds on schemes already in place in most states for the continued incarceration of people convicted of paedophilia or extreme violence if they are considered to be of ongoing risk.

Turnbull told a news conference after Friday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting that leaders had agreed:

… to develop a nationally consistent post-sentence preventative detention scheme which would enable a continuing period of imprisonment for high risk terrorist offenders.

The government has already legislated to strip dual nationals involved in terrorism of their citizenship.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott also flagged acting against those who had sole Australian citizenship. That proposal caused a ruckus in cabinet at the time because of the constitutional problems involved and he referred the question to a citizenship review undertaken by Philip Ruddock and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Ruddock said on Friday the plan now endorsed was:

… very much more comprehensive than anything else we may have been able to achieve.

Having the states and territories legislate gets around any potential lack of constitutional power for the federal government to do so. It also involves a court decision, in contrast to some aspects of the new dual citizenship law.

Turnbull said the states’ action should be taken “as soon as possible”. There was solid precedent, with the states having existing laws that dealt with offenders of a different kind in a similar way, he said. “We may be able to get this done and dusted by March.”

The leaders seem as far away as ever from an agreement on the direction of tax reform.

“We’ve agreed to continue investigating a full range of Commonwealth and state tax and revenue-sharing options,” Turnbull said.

But he indicated the next COAG meeting, in March, was a deadline for reaching as much agreement as could be achieved.

“March is not very long before the federal budget so whatever tax plans we take to the budget you would imagine would be well advanced by March”.

The timetable Turnbull outlined reinforces the indication he has given that he wants to run full term rather than have an election around March.

The states remain preoccupied with the growing challenge of health funding. NSW Premier Mike Baird said:

It’s a very rare position where all state and territory leaders will put down the political badge and say, ‘what is the number one challenge we are facing?’ And it is health. How do we fund health into the long term? That has been agreed as our big fiscal challenge. Importantly, we have committed, as the prime minister said, to investigating all tax options as a way of addressing this challenge.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has been adamant that the Commonwealth will not adopt a tax reform plan that involves part of the revenue being used to fund extra state spending.

The leaders also decided there will be a national summit on preventing violence against women and their children, to be held in the last quarter of next year.