Australia needs a "sheepdog" to round up the nation's premiers and help them push through further economic reform.
Without such leadership, Australia will continue falling behind its goal of securing prosperity in the Asian century.
That was the assessment of John Brumby, a former Victorian premier who was speaking on Thursday in his capacity as chairman of the COAG reform council.
"We are in the midst of a fierce competition," he said of attracting investment from China and India.
"Much of the world around us has been moving faster. Our progress has been satisfactory, but theirs has been outstanding."
Mr Brumby said someone will need to take control during April's COAG meeting or else current national objectives, such as education and business reform, will keep falling behind schedule.
"You need at least one state premier from one of the major states who is prepared in a sense to lead the pack, to be a bit of a sheepdog role, I suppose, to round up the other states to get them there," he said.
But he wasn't sure if Denis Napthine, Victoria's new premier and a former veterinarian, will be just the sheepdog he's looking for.
"That remains to be seen," he said.
Mr Brumby, a former Labor leader and federal MP, was addressing business leaders at a Melbourne luncheon.
While COAG meetings can become a political battle between states and the commonwealth, Mr Brumby told the crowd that common goals can still be achieved.
He singled out West Australian Premier Colin Barnett and the recently deposed Ted Baillieu as leaders who understood the importance of seizing coming opportunities in the Asian century.
"I think this runs across party lines," he said.