State and territory leaders have agreed to mirror federal counter-terrorism legislation to make sure there are no loopholes.

Would-be terrorists will find no loopholes in Australia’s national security laws after the state and territory governments agreed to “mirror” federal legislation.

State leaders were briefed on national security threats and counter-terrorism measures at a Council of Australian Governments meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Canberra on Friday.

They’ve agreed to introduce law changes into their parliaments to match federal moves underpinning the ability to arrest, monitor, investigate and prosecute homegrown extremists and returning foreign fighters.

“This is an issue of keeping Australians safe … and the best way to do so is to make sure that there are no loopholes that can be exploited by people who would do us harm and a harmonisation of security laws is very important,” Mr Abbott told reporters.

A new survey has found eight in 10 Australians are in favour of moves to stop people going overseas to fight with Islamic State extremists, while seven in 10 support spy agencies getting more phone and internet surveillance powers.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said Australians could be proud of the way governments were working together on the matter.

Leaders also discussed the need to maintain community cohesion in difficult times.

“We want to send the clearest possible message to our Islamic communities here in Australia to say that they are valued citizens of Australia,” SA Premier Jay Weatherill said.

But a fight could be brewing as a white paper examines how Australia’s federation is working, and how roles might change.

The discussion paper, to be released in the first half of next year, will focus on health, schools, early childhood and vocational education, housing and homelessness – especially how to cut down on overlap between governments.

“This is not a tick-the-box exercise,” Mr Baird said.

“This is a genuine opportunity to make some significant reform to issues that matter to the families and communities across the country.”

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles wants it to look at the territory becoming a state.

All agreed the conversation about responsibilities and who pays for them was overdue.

WA Premier Colin Barnett hoped the white paper process would come up with a way to give states financial stability – noting it could put an end to his perennial “whinge from the west” about GST distribution.

Mr Abbott said the most important thing was to work through these things in a “calm and collegiate way”.

“While there are many aspects of our federation that do leave something to be desired, it is still by any normal consideration a strong and successful federation,” Mr Abbott said.

The prime minister also updated COAG on progress towards a referendum for indigenous constitutional recognition.

He hopes to set a date for the referendum soon, saying that would crystallise debate about what changes should be made.