Although the Australian Constitution lists the powers of the Commonwealth, it does not mandate how intergovernmental relations should be conducted, nor does it provide for any intergovernmental forums.
As such, intergovernmental relations have evolved over time.

This topic covers:

  • forums in which intergovernmental negotiations can occur
  • types of intergovernmental agreements
  • how intergovernmental negotiations should be managed
  • key documents governing how NSW agencies may be  involved in intergovernmental relations.

After reading the information below, you should  know what to do when you encounter a policy issue that affects NSW and one or more other  jurisdictions.

Intergovernmental forums

Intergovernmental forums are an opportunity for the NSW Premier and ministers to influence national policy and progress NSW's   priorities. When attending intergovernmental forums, the Premier and ministers  make decisions on behalf of the NSW Government, so Cabinet should pre-approve their stance in negotiations.

There are a number of broad and focused intergovernmental forums:

  • The Council of Australian Governments (COAG): This is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, made up of the Prime Minister, state premiers, territory chief ministers.
  • The Council for the Australian Federation (CAF): Membership comprises state premiers and territory chief ministers. 
  • Ministerial Councils: These enable meetings of ministers from specific portfolios and include the Council on Federal Financial Relations (comprising state and territory Treasurers) and the COAG Education Council. These councils make decisions in their relevant policy portfolios, raise issues to COAG and seek COAG endorsement for agreements reached. Some are known as COAG ministerial councils, while others sit outside the formal COAG framework but exercise a similar role.
  • Bilateral negotiations: For example, the Western Sydney City Deal and various cross-border agreements involve the NSW Government engaging with other jurisdictions.
  • Senior official negotiations As with all policy areas, senior officials often meet to progress negotiations in the lead up to COAG, CAF and ministerial councils meetings. Some senior official groups  - such as COAG Senior Officials meet regularly, while other groups - including senior official working groups  - may be setup from time to time to deal with specific issues.

The structure of intergovernmental relations

Intergovernmental agreements

The NSW Government often enters into multilateral and bilateral agreements. Some agreements outline the terms of Commonwealth funding to states, while others seek the commitment of other governments in pursuing  consistent policy objectives.

Regardless of the type of agreement,  the negotiation process must always be consistent with the NSW protocols outlined below.    

Federal financial agreements

Various agreements regulate the Commonwealth's funding of each state and in doing so outline a shared commitment to achieving agreed policy outcomes. These agreements fall under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations and include national agreements, national partnerships, and project agreements.

Depending on the type of agreement, it may be signed by the Premier, or by the Minister  with the Premier's and Treasurer’s endorsement.

Other types of intergovernmental agreements

There are other forms of intergovernmental agreements other than those that govern Commonwealth funding for the states and territories. They might involve multilateral commitments to share information or bilateral commitments to coordinate government responses to a particular policy issue.