COAG agrees to national reform

In other developments, Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Tasmania have agreed to look at synchronising the start of daylight saving each year.

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Mr Howard said all governments agreed to support a bid, if there was one, for Australia to host the 2018 soccer World Cup.

The issues surrounding a compensation fund set up to allow James Hardie to pay victims of asbestos-related diseases would continue to be discussed, he said.

But the prime minister said the Commonwealth’s position – of opposing tax deductibility for the fund – was still in place.

“This has been another very constructive COAG meeting at which an enormous amount has been achieved in a spirit of cooperation and a desire to get practical results for the Australian people,” Mr Howard said.

“The major outcome has been agreement on a huge, indeed mammoth, national reform agenda which will cover the important areas of human capital, as well as issues of regulation, red tape, other matters touching on infrastructure.

“It will particularly deal with early childhood issues.”

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said COAG welcomed agreement on the reform agenda but said the meeting had failed to move forward on stem cell research.

Mr Bracks had urged the federal government to reconsider plans to continue a ban on human embryo research, saying prohibiting therapeutic cloning was hampering the hunt for cures to serious diseases and holding back researchers.

He said Victoria reserved the right to consider its position in moving on the next wave of reform in stem cell research.

Mr Howard appeared to back away from earlier threats made by the commonwealth that states that go it alone on human embryo and stem cell research may be financially penalised by Canberra.

Meanwhile Labor leaders have used the COAG meeting to taunt Treasurer Peter Costello over the Liberal leadership, saying they would rather work with John Howard as prime minister.

Premiers and chief ministers also criticised Mr Costello’s suggestion that economic powers be transferred from the states to the commonwealth.