From the President
During the last month or so, I have noted a recurring statement in the Prime Minister's speeches, that prompts me to reflect upon the importance to our nation of sound and adequate infrastructure. The statement I refer to is the one in which the Prime Minister urges us 'to build a modern Australia, capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century - to secure the nation's future, as well as securing the future for the nation's families'.
Central to the Prime Minister's vision for Australia is the concept of 'building'.
Local government has a critical interest in the building of infrastructure that binds our local communities together. In any one local government area, there may be community halls, swimming pools, museums, libraries, parks and gardens, cycle and pedestrian paths, and of course, local roads. These community facilities are essential to our communities, as they promote social interaction and wellbeing.
The reality, however, is that much of the present stock of community infrastructure is approaching the end of its economic life. Whilst some of our local roads have been upgraded through much needed funding such as the Commonwealth's Road to Recovery program, other key community infrastructure is being left behind and is in desperate need of renewal.
Some local councils have been able to find the finances to renew or rebuild this ageing community infrastructure. But as noted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in its Report on the National Financial Sustainability of Local Government (2006), commissioned by ALGA, the majority of our community infrastructure has not been rebuilt or renewed, due to cost pressures and squeezes on local government budgets that further highlight the effects of past under funding and cost shifting from other spheres of government.
The Productivity Commission (PC) in its recent study on the capacity of local government to raise own-source revenue (April 2008) concluded that local governments are raising a very high level of own-source revenue. It concluded that the hypothetical additional own-source revenue that could be raised by local government across Australia on average was low (12 per cent).
Importantly, the PC makes it very clear that whilst local government may have the hypothetical capacity to raise additional own-source revenue, this does not imply that local government should actually increase own-source revenue. The PC expresses considerable sensitivity to the fact that local governments are diverse, and exhibit that diversity considerably across a number of characteristics including demographic and geographic attributes of their local area, preferences and expectations of their local communities, and state legislative frameworks under which they operate.
Notably, the PC finds that even if all local governments did raise own-source revenue to their maximum assessed capacity, the majority would fall below 100 per cent cost recovery. That is, there would still remain a gap between the revenue and the day-to-day expenses of most local governments.
The 'cost recovery' gap between revenue and expenses is likely to be wider still, given that the PC excludes from its definition of cost recovery any of local governments' future liabilities, such as those associated with infrastructure renewal, where adequate provision has not been made.
PwC estimated the community infrastructure backlog to be $14.5 billion, and that a funding gap per annum of $2.16 billion needs filling if the backlog is to be cleared and the underspend corrected.
As we count down the days to the Federal Budget 2008-09, the need for fairer funding to enable local government to invest adequately in the 'rebuilding' of our nation has never been clearer.
Local government calls upon the Federal Government to act now to establish a dedicated Community Infrastructure Renewals Fund to help reverse the consequences of past under funding, which has hurt our communities. Any delay in the establishment of such a fund is a lost opportunity to build Australia as a modern, 21st century, socially inclusive nation. A Community Infrastructure Renewals Fund is the best way of ensuring that the 1000 or so community infrastructure renewal projects identified by local government bodies can be progressed as a matter of urgency. Like you, I await the Federal Budget with interest.
Cr Paul Bell AM
Nominations Open for the Australian Privacy Awards
Local councils are invited to nominate for the Australian Privacy Awards programme.
This initiative of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was recently launched by Senator John Faulkner.
It recognises and rewards local councils, government agencies, businesses and not-for-profit organisations that engage in good privacy practices.
Councils can nominate for any projects, initiatives, campaigns or systems they may have engaged in that involve the handling of personal information.
More information on how to nominate is here.
ALGA submission to new financial management body
ALGA has made a submission to the newly established Senate Select Committee on State Government Financial Management.
In the submission, ALGA emphasises that any examination of improvements to the system of Commonwealth-State fiscal relations must also consider local government.
It points out that local government plays an integral role in the development and continued sustainability of Australia's local communities, and is a dynamic player in the Australian federation.
ALGA highlights four issues for the Committee's attention:
- Intergovernmental financial transfers from other spheres of government to local government as an aspect of reforms in intergovernmental relations;
- The potential for cost shifting from other spheres of government to local government and the need to prevent this occurring;
- Infrastructure and infrastructure renewals; and
- Transparency in the reporting of financial transfers to local government.
A copy of ALGA's submission is available here.
NSW communities will be deprived of millions under new laws: NSW LG&SA
The NSW Local Government and Shires Association has launched a joint campaign against proposed changes to the State's planning laws which which they claim will deprive communities of millions of dollars.
Genia McCaffery from the LGA says developers will now be able to pay less money when they do a development to contribute to community facilities such as playgrounds, childcare centres and local roads.
Ms McCaffery says 152 councils have contributed 100 thousand dollars in total to fight the planning changes.
Shires Association President, Mr Bruce Miller, has urged residents must tell their State MPs if they don't support the laws.
Qld Govt to repair or buy damaged Collingwood Park homes
The Queensland government says it will establish a taskforce with the Ipswich City Council to make recommendations to cabinet in the coming months for further assistance to people whose homes in the city have been damaged by mine subsidence.
The State Premier Anna Bligh, has stated that the Queensland government will repair or buy out up to 20 homes in the Ipswich suburb of Collingwood Park damaged recently. mine subsidence.
Nineteenth century mine workings has been blamed.
However, State Mines Minister, Geoff Wilson, has said the financial assistance will not apply to properties approved for development since the subsidence began on April 26.
He says this means Ipswich city council or any local council in Queensland must take full responsibility for future development they approve in any potential mine subsidence areas.
Inspection of the Collingwood Park area had shown the subsidence had stopped but monitoring would continue for some time.
Discussion paper prepared on COAG affordable housing move
The ALGA secretariat has prepared a discussion paper advise the Board of progress on the COAG Affordable Housing initiatives including electronic development assessment (eDA).
The Council of Australian Government (COAG) agreed in December to implement five key housing initiatives: to facilitate improved housing supply through identifying surplus government land suitable for housing; provide incentives to build affordable rental housing; lower the burden of infrastructure and regulatory costs built into the purchase price of a new home and improve the evidence base for housing policy and program development.
COAG also agreed to support the most needy in society through joint Commonwealth-State investment in 600 houses and units for homeless people.
One of the major initiatives of direct relevance to local government is the $500 million Housing Affordability Fund aimed at lowering the burden of infrastructure and regulatory costs built into the purchase price of a new home.
The Commonwealth has decided to allocate $30 million from those funds for the roll out of electronic development applications in local government with a priority focus on high growth areas.
The Housing Affordability Fund seeks to address two significant 'supply-side' barriers to housing development: infrastructure costs (such as water, sewerage, transport, and parklands) and 'holding costs' associated with the time taken by planning and approval processes.
COAG has agreed that the Commonwealth, in consultation with States and Territories and the ALGA, will establish assessment criteria for the Housing Affordability Fund.
The COAG Affordable Housing Working Group will meet again on 16 May 2008.
The discussion paper points out that the ALGA has made strong representations through-out the working group processes to ensure that state and territory local government association are linked to state government engagement in this process.
Where state representatives have proposed that state input be provided on any matter ALGA has successfully argued that jurisdictional input must be developed in conjunction with state and territory local government association.
The Commonwealth has indicated that the Affordable Housing Fund programme will be driven by a competitive bid process. Funding under this initiative will be available from 1 July 2008.
Applications will be sought from councils, groups of councils and in some cases state governments. Collaborative applications will be encouraged.
The Commonwealth is preparing a consultation document which will be circulated to state associations, council and interested stakeholders. The timing of distribution of this document is subject to the minister's decision. The Working Group has not at this stage been consulted on this document.
The ALGA secretariat discussion paper points out that this program faces several challenges: in particular there is genuine concern by all parties about how proposed savings can be passed on to home buyers. Further work will be required on this and other issues and the Commonwealth would be pleased to receive ideas on how this may be achieved.
On the issue of electronic development assessment, the Prime Minister announced that $30 million of the Affordable Housing Fund would be allocated for eDA. To facilitate the eDA initiative COAG has requested the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council to make the implementation of this work a priority.
At the Local Government and Planning Ministerial Council meeting held 27 March it was agreed that the states and territories would provide advice by 18 April 2008 to the Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, in conjunction with their respective state and territory local government bodies, on:
- the extent of current eDA practices in their jurisdictions, including quantifiable information on the number of councils that have fully and partly completed the process;
- suggestions on possible ideas for fast tracking eDA best practice in local government areas within their jurisdictions;
- the extent to which referral processes are electronic in their jurisdictions, including quantifiable information; and
- planned strategies as well as new funding and resources that may be provided to support federal funding available to fast track eDA as part of the Housing Affordability Fund, for implementation by 2009.
ALGA understands that all jurisdictions have undertaken this task and that feedback is with the Minister Plibersek. The Commonwealth is considering the design parameters for this component of the program.
Disability Employment Strategy discussions in Sydney
The Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O'Connor, met disability groups in Sydney this week to discuss ways to boost the employment of people with disability and/or mental illness in New South Wales.
The meeting was held under the aegis of the Federal Government's National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy.
"We want people to share their first hand knowledge with the Government so that the strategy can not only identify barriers but also address them in a practical and effective way," he said.
Mr O'Connor and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and Children's Services, Bill Shorten, recently released a discussion paper on the issue. They are now calling for submissions.
"The strategy aims to encourage more employers to employ people with a disability or mental illness by addressing myths about increased risks and costs, and increasing awareness of the benefits," Minister O?Connor said.
"Research shows that there are significant benefits in employing people with disability including fewer accidents at work and reduced employee costs.
Submissions close on June 30. Copies of the discussion paper and more information on the strategy are available here.
Regional airport security cash
Infrastructure Minister Albanese has provided more than $92,000 from the Regional Airport Funding Program to strengthen security at the Burnie and Illawarra airport.
The spending is:
- More than $85,000 for a new closed circuit television system at Burnie Airport; and
- $6,700 to upgrade security fencing at Illawarra Regional Airport.
Last year, more than 87,000 passengers passed through Burnie Airport and more than 15,000 arrived at or departed from Illawarra Regional Airport.
Mr Albanese says that under the government's $36.5 million Regional Airport Funding Program practical measures are undertaken to strengthen security arrangements at up to 150 of the nation's regional airports.
New partnership to tackle WA skills shortages
Western Australia will be the first State to join the federal-state governments' Productivity Places Program.
Details were announced this week by Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard and her State counterpart,Mark McGowan.
Western Australia will, from July to December this year, pilot an initiative to deliver 1000 new training places in skill shortage areas, with more places expected next year as part of the broader rollout of the programme.
The Australian and WA Governments will invest $2 million to provide workers in Western Australia with the chance to upgrade their skills and gain higher level qualifications.
The announcement was made at the opening of a new $8.4 million print and jewellery apprenticeship training facility at Central TAFE in Perth.
Minister Gillard says the Australian Government is dedicated to tackling skills shortages across the nation. She described the WA announcement as "an important step in delivering 450,000 new training places in the next four years across Australia.
"This marks the next phase in the rollout of the Productivity Places Program, with the first 20,000 training places already made available for job seekers from April," the ministers said.
"The new training places we announced - and the others available - will be targeted to the existing workforce and will be available at the Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma levels.
"Nearly 80 qualifications will be on offer across a range of industries, including the key skills shortage areas of metals and mining; building and construction; electro-technology; manufacturing; community services; and hospitality and tourism.
More information on the Productivity Places Program is available here.
Krait re-enactment organisers approach welcome: Melbourne Lord Mayor
Melbourne's Lord Mayor, Mr John So, says his Council would welcome a formal approach for a civic reception by six ex-commandos who will be recreating one of Australia's most daring exploits of the Second World War.
"In Melbourne we support a lot of good causes," he said.
"We have Council elections on November 29 but I'm sure the new council would look favourably on any approach."
Allan Miles, the CEO of the "Following the Krait" exercise says that so far more than 30 local councils around Australia's coastline have already arranged civic receptions and more are coming on board all the time.
"I've made informal approaches to the Melbourne Lord Mayor's chief of staff and I'll be following those up."
The boat the ex-commandos plan to use for the trip is moored in Port Melbourne.
In 1943 a group of 14 Australian military travelled 33 days through Japanese-dominated waters in the old fishing boat before sinking 40,000 tons of Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbour and returning unscathed.
The six ex-Australian Army commandos are reliving the "Krait" exploit to raise money for Legacy. They expect to arrive in Singapore on the 65th anniversary of the original daring attack.
The old soldiers raised $268,000 for prostate cancer research in a similar project in 2001.
"We call ourselves the Operation Pilgrimage Group," Allan says.
"We're not out to glorify war but to remember the courage of Australians in war.
"We're so pleased local government is getting behind us.
"The level of community spirit being demonstrated by local government shows the vital nature of this sphere of administration."
The nine month project begins on June 1 when Operation Pilgrimage leaves Sydney in a 32 foot power boat for Singapore. The ex-commandos expect to be back on February 28, 2009.
This time, instead of explosives, the Operation Pilgrimage Team will present a "pilgrimage for peace" greeting to the Singapore government.
"We'll be visiting 146 Australian coastal towns during the 40,000 kilometre voyage," Allan says.
"As well as the civic receptions during the voyage, Sydney City Council is planning a special one for us on our return."
Three of the original "Krait" crew are still alive, all going strong well into their eighties.
They are Horrie Young who lives on the NSW Central Coast, Arthur Jones of Perth and Moss Berryman who lives in Adelaide.
"We're organizing testimonial dinners for all three men in their towns as we go around Australia," Allan says.
Editor's note: Allan is available on mobile 0412 992 997. The "Krait" is kept as a floating Australian maritime military museum.
Local govt. needs more to cope with natural disasters: report
A new report critical of Australia's preparedness for natural disasters points to a resource-starved local government sector.
The wide-ranging review of Australia's resilience to a major natural disaster says such events pose a threat to normal life across significant areas of the country, similar to security challenges.
The focus on national security has obscured the potential for much greater deaths and casualties caused by extreme natural disasters and the need for an all-hazards risk approach, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says.
The report - "Taking a Punch: Building a More Resilient Australia "- says the country has been very lucky not to have faced the "big one".
"(That's) the catastrophic event that produces extensive casualties and loss of life, widespread damage, large numbers of displaced people, significant business failure, extreme relief and recovery costs that simply overwhelms our capacity to respond," the report said.
"About 30 per cent of councils in Australia are under severe financial stress with asset management and improvements urgently required," APSI says.
It points out that work commissioned by the Australian Local Government Association suggests a national backlog in local government infrastructure which can be vital in helping to deal with natural disasters.
ALGA President Paul Bell comments: "This 'infrastructure backlog' can be a vital factor in terms of a disaster.
"The general backlog in community infrastructure, including halls, etc, certainly impacts on a community's resilience and its ability to provide community kitchens, areas for dormitories, etc in the case of a natural disaster."
APSI goes on to say: "Climate change will compound the risks of disruption and have a direct influence on the type, scale and frequency of disasters and emergencies Australia will face, including increased flooding, more frequent and intense storms, lightning events and bushfires.
"More coastal zone residential developments are simply increasing these risks."
APSI says that currently there are many systems across policing and emergency authorities.
"If these were harmonised under a common approach it would enable all agencies to contribute through appropriate access and generate greater community confidence and resilience," it points out.
"Australia does not have an appropriate, effective, timely national community information and warning system capable of being used in the lead-up to, occurrence of, and recovery from disasters.
"Recent improvements to tsunami monitoring are commendable, but don't help to convey the message of a potential impact to communities in the middle of the night," the report concludes.
Local Adaptation Pathway Programme grants announced
The Minister for Climate Change and Water has announced the recipients of grants under the first round of the Local Adaptation Pathway Program. The grants will enable the 33 successful councils or groups of councils to assess the risks due to climate change in their areas, and to plan for adaptation to climate change.
"Local governments play a major role in planning and development, natural resources management, infrastructure, and health and recreational facilities - and so are crucial to managing the effects of climate change on their communities," Senator Wong said in her speech to the Queensland Media Club on May 6.
The grants, to a maximum of $50 000 each, were awarded to 33 councils. A full list of recipients under the program is available at website.
Australian councils called on to help PNG local government
Expressions of interest have been called from Australian councils to partner with PNG councils for a capacity building programme at local government to local government level.
The programmes will be aimed at improving the management and delivery of services to communities in PNG.
At present four such partnerships are in place:
- Mt Hagen City/Orange City - development of a city plan, refuse collection and disposal plan and women's empowerment/economic development project;
- National Capital District Commission (Pt Moresby)/Townsville City - improvement of regulatory services, property rating and information technology;
- Lae City/Cairns City - development of an integrated waste management strategy for the City of Lae; and
- Alotau ULLG and Noosa (now Sunshine Coast) Council - enhanced management of the solid waste disposal facility and collection, improved billing system and new information technology.
The three new partnership councils from PNG seeking an Australian partner are: Goroka, Madang & Kokopo.
Members of the CLGF team will be on the Sunshine Coast following the LGMA conference at the Gold Coast. They are hoping that future partners may be identified by then.
ALGA President, Cr Paul Bell, says Mitcham Council in South Australia has already committed in principle and so we are possibly only looking for two new councils.
Potential Australian partner councils should initially contact Karen Miller on 02 61229441 at the ALGA secretariat with their expressions of interest.
There is more information about the program on the CLGF Pacific website under the heading pacific projects PNG.
Road and rail pricing neutrality less than claimed: Productivity Commission
The Australian Government Productivity Commission has found that pricing neutrality between road and rail is much less of a concern than has been claimed.
It says the main policy objective should be to ensure efficient investment decisions in both modes through better institutions and governance.
Details are contained in a special 10th anniversary edition of the Commission's journal, PC update.
The Commission has reviewed road and rail as part of an overall review of incentives for efficient infrastructure.
As part of the review the Commission has also looked at the gas access regime, telecommunications competition regulation and the price regulation of airport services.
It says a major theme of these reports is the desirability of an approach to infrastructure price regulation that does not discourage efficient investment.
In a review of broadcasting regulation, for example, the Commission called for rapid reform to deal with the new competitive dynamics of the converging media environment. It says that regulatory distinctions between media, services and delivery platforms should be avoided.
Meanwhile the Commission reports annually on the financial performance of government trading enterprises (GTes) in co-operation with Australian, State and Territory governments.
The Commission points out that monitored GTes provide services in key sections of the economy, including electricity, water, urban transport, railways, ports and forestry.
It says that despite some recent improvement, about half of the monitored GTes do not achieve commercial rates of return. This, the Commission says, indicates a long-term failure to operate these businesses on a fully commercial basis in accordance with competition policy agreement undertakings. The review of the governance arrangements of GTes had found considerable scope for improvement.
In the 10th anniversary edition the Commission states that efficient provision and use of economic infrastructure is fundamental to economic growth, pointing out that a significant determinant of the performance of Australia's infrastructure is the institutional and regulatory structure within which it operates.
Strategic Direction for Food Regulation System
ALGA attended the 11th meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Food regulation Ministerial Council held in Melbourne last. Friday.
The meeting endorsed the 'Overarching Strategic Statement for the Food Regulatory System' that provides the strategic context for the Australian and New Zealand food regulation system. The statement is available here.
The Ministerial Council also: endorsed a policy guideline on the addition of substances other than vitamins and minerals in food; requested Food Standards Australia New Zealand to consider mandatory warnings on package alcohol taking into account the work of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy and other ministerial councils and New Zealand guidelines.
The full communiqu? from the meeting can be found at alga's website.
Local government and liability - climate change
Two recent publications have highlighted some issues regarding the legal liability which councils may face due to climate change.
The first, published by Griffith University, is entitled Climate Change: What are Local Governments Liable For?
It considers the issue from two perspectives: local government as a potential contributor to climate change, and the potential liability for local govenrment due to decisions, policies and programs it makes or implements. The report is available free of charge here.
The second publication, prepared by The Environmental Defender's Office (EDO), was commissioned by the Sydney Coastal Councils Group. The EDO conducted an audit of legislation and policy instruments at all levels of government in Australia, to determine the responsibilities and potential liabilities of coastal councils for climate change.
The result was the report titled Coastal Councils Planning for Climate Change. An assessment of Australian and NSW legislation and government policy provisions in relation to climate change relevant to regional and metropolitan NSW coastal councils. To request a free copy please email email@example.com
Note that neither report should be considered legal advice.
National summit on cars and climate change
Cars hold enormous importance to people from all walks of life, from high mileage drivers travelling to work, to those on low incomes or who are disabled for whom the car is a lifeline to work, the shops and a range of services.
One of the key challenges for Australia in the 21st century isto harness the enormous benefits of cars, while at the sametime making significant reductions in the negative impacts caused by motoring, such as air pollution, death and injury and greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) will be holding a one-day conference entitled On The Road To Greener Motoring on June 3 at the Realm Hotel, National Circuit, Canberra.
The keynote address will be delivered by David Ward, Director General of the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society.
The FIA Foundation is an international charity founded in 2001. Its objects are to promote road safety, environmental protection, and sustainable mobility.
David Ward is also the Secretary of the Commission for Global Road Safety, Chairman of the Governing Board of the World Bank's Global Road Safety Facility, and a Director of the International Road Assessment Programme.
He has also served in a number of road safety related advisory committees and working groups of the OECD, the WHO, the UN and the European Commission. Go to www.aaa.asn.au/GreenerMotoring to register your interest and for further information on the Climate Change Summit.
For other information, contact the conference co-ordinators, Julie Anderson or Paul Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +61 2 6247 7311.
2008 Local Government Cultural Awards
Important issues such as mental health, reconciliation, the environment and education were highlighted through the winning entries in this year's Local Government Cultural Awards.
Twenty councils across NSW, from a record 72 entries, were named winners at the awards ceremony held last week at NSW Parliament House.
The State Minister for Local Government, Paul Lynch, the Presidents of the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW, representatives from the arts and entertainment industry and councils attended the ceremony to celebrate and recognise the important role Local Government plays in encouraging and promoting culture in the community.
"Councils recognise their key role in promoting culture in the community, and continue to create unique and inspiring projects that deal with important issues," said Cr Genia McCaffery, President of the Local Government Association.
"It is crucial that councils be able to continue to provide the infrastructure that supports culture and the arts within their communities."
The President of the Shires Association, Cr Bruce Miller was impressed by the increase in entries in this year's awards.
"This year's record number of entries clearly indicates how important cultural projects are to our communities and confirms the many benefits these events and initiatives provide.
"It's great to see that 32 entrants were from the state's regional and rural councils."
Urana Shire Council won the People's Choice Award - a first-time category for the annual awards. While the results were close, Urana Shire Council's presentation of the production by Victorian Opera of Mozart's "Cossi Fan Tutte" took first place.
"Local Government is pivotal in promoting and expressing culture within the community and the Cultural Awards are a fantastic opportunity to recognise this," Minister for Local Government, Paul Lynch said.
A full list of the nominated projects with summaries is available here.
Babies winners in Victorian budget
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) says a sustained advocacy campaign by local government had helped persuade the State government to deliver for babies in its State Budget.
Also, a strong social Budget focus had invested in the needs of vulnerable families, early childhood development, anti-social behaviour and housing.
Cr Dick Gross, MAV President, said babies were big winners from this year's State Budget with an extra $55 million.
"State and local government share the cost of providing maternal and child health services but rising birth rates and a shortfall in State funding had left councils bearing an increased proportion of the service costs.
"The Budget has addressed this issue by allocating an additional $30 million over four years to ensure councils can cope with the demands of an extra 10,000 babies being born.
"An additional $13 million will boost the core maternal and child health service. This is a pleasing result for councils after the MAV completed a costing study that found a shortfall in the State's contribution.
"An extra $12.2 million will also expand the enhanced maternal and child health service provided by councils to vulnerable and at-risk families. Babies have brought home the Budget bucks this year," he said.
Maternal and child health services are delivered by Victoria's 79 councils, with funding and policy development shared by State and local government to ensure all babies and young children receive check-ups and health support at key developmental stages up to the age of five years.
Cr Gross said it was great to see the State providing ongoing support to innovations in service delivery, where councils were collaborating to provide more efficient and cost effective options.
"A total of $6 million has been committed for the Regional Food Kitchen initiative led by Hobsons Bay City Council and involving 14 municipalities. This will provide an affordable and nutritious delivered meals service to community care recipients.
"Also, provision of $600,000 is welcome to support councillor good governance training and introduction of conduct panels following two years' work by the MAV.
"We await further details of the yet-to-be finalised reforms following a consultation process earlier this year, but the funding commitment is a good start."
ALGA supports doctors' appeal for rural health help in Budget
ALGA President, Cr Paul Bell has supported a call from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia for more help for doctors in the bush in the Budget.
"Doctors - indeed, all medical services - are of critical importance to all rural communities," he said.
"Councils certainly support the call on the Federal Government to address these health issues.
"After all, in the country, people can't just go to another GP down the road.
The Rural Doctors' Association says the Federal Government's Rural Health Workforce Audit has provided yet more evidence that rural health is in full-blown cardiac arrest and underlines why next week's Budget must include real measures to get more doctors and other health professionals to the bush.
"The results of the Rural Health Workforce Audit were much worse than even we had expected," RDAA President, Dr Peter Rischbieth, said.
"Those results provide yet more evidence of the chronic shortage of doctors and other health professionals across rural and remote Australia, and demonstrate just how much urgent work needs to be done in combating this crisis.
"In short, the rural health sector is in full-blown cardiac arrest and only the Government can charge the heart machine's paddles.
"While we can understand the Rudd Government might want to take some time in further assessing the rural health workforce crisis before forming an action plan, there is simply not the luxury of time available. After years of reviews, now is the time for action.
"The truth is we once had a huge paddock full of rural doctors but they have been pouring out of a gap in the fence for years.
"The government can spend a further twelve months analysing what it should do about the gap and-at the same time-watch even more doctors getting out of rural practice, or it can bite the bullet, invest in some much-needed repairs and also put some real incentives in place.
"This might cost a little more than leaving a gap in the fence, but at the end of the day it will encourage a whole lot more doctors to stay in the paddock.
"Waiting until next year's Budget before implementing any meaningful package to turn the rural health workforce crisis around will only see more doctors leaving the bush because of burnout or retirement, and more young medical graduates choosing the path to city-based specialist practice rather than rural medicine.
"It will also risk more small rural hospitals being downgraded or closed because state governments can use the excuse that there are not enough doctors and other health professionals to staff them.
"One of the most critical items we need in next week's Budget is a Rural Rescue Package to entice more doctors to rural and remote Australia. Put forward last year by RDAA and the AMA, this cost-effective package has attracted significant support from many quarters and comprises:
- A Rural Isolation Payment to be paid to all rural doctors (including GPs, specialists and registrars) to reflect the isolation associated with rural practice; and
- A Rural Procedural and Emergency/On Call Loading to better support rural procedural doctors (including procedural specialists) who provide obstetric, surgical, anaesthetic or primary emergency on-call service in rural communities.
"There is also an urgent need to develop a national rural health policy to combat the lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes of rural Australians when compared with their city counterparts, and the implementation of a "National Rural Health Obligation" (in co-operation with the states) to ensure that all rural Australians have better access to doctors, other health professionals, local hospitals and health services in their communities.
"We desperately hope next week's Budget will deliver a real way forward for rural healthcare in this country and, importantly, also help improve the overall sustainability of rural communities across Australia.
"We have heard the Rudd Government say on many occasions that rural healthcare desperately needs more support. Now is the time for the Government to put its money where its mouth is," Dr Rischbieth said.
The National Local Roads and Transport Congress
The National Local Roads and Transport Congress is being held in Shepparton, Victoria from 15 - 17 June.
More than 25 presenters will, over the two days of the Congress, be speaking on wide range of transport policy issues relevant to local government. There will be opportunities to question speakers on emerging policy developments under the new Federal Government.
The Congress theme for 2008 is "Securing the First Mile". Delegates will be informed of the key role local roads have in the Federal Government's new national transport plan announced at the Australian Transport Council meeting on 2 May. See separate article.
As is the case very year the Congress provides the opportunity to hear about, and learn from, the experiences of councils from around the country. This year we will also have a speaker from Local Government New Zealand to speak on the way, which is very different to Australia, that local roads are funded in that country.
There is also available over the two days of the Congress workshops on dealing with media. The workshops are available at no additional cost on a first come first in basis.
More details and registration information is available at ALGA's website.
Paid parental leave hearings begin in Canberra
Public hearings for the Productivity Commission inquiry on Paid Parental Leave began in Canberra on Wednesday.
The Commission has been asked by the Government to look at strategies for improved support for parents with newborn children.
The Commission says it is particularly keen to hear from individuals about their personal experiences and suggestions in relation to parental leave.
After Canberra, the hearings move to Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, then Darwin before finishing in Brisbane on June 5.
Community fora will also be held, including in Dandenong, Dubbo and Rockhampton.
The Commission will release a draft report for comment in September.
2008 Heart Foundation local government awards
The Heart Foundation is offering prizes again this year to local government.
It says any council that has a plan, policy or programme to create a healthier place for its residents is eligible to apply.
Councils that work co-operatively with community groups, schools, health and community organisations and/or private industry are encouraged to enter the awareds as well.
Applications close on June 6. More information is available from the website or from the local government co-ordinator on 02 92192444.
The ninth World Congress of Metropolis will be held in Sydney on October 22-25.
More than 1,000 local and international civic leaders, public and private representatives and academics are expected to attend the congress which is hosted by the NSW government.
Metropolis Congress 2008 will bring together world cities to exchange the experience and best practice of key contemporary issues including public/private partnerships, climate change, social sustainability, urban renewal and technology.
There is more information here.
Heritage at risk
Fifteen Australian heritage experts say the nation's heritage is at risk.
They met at a National Brains Trust forum in Sydney this week to discuss the situation.
Speaking for the group, the University of Queensland?s Professor of History, Peter Spearitt, said governments had abandoned leadership, eroded their independent agencies and cut funding for heritage.
The situation was the worst it had been since the 1970s. The group said the situation was the worst in New South Wales.
"Significantly, heritage did not rate a mention - and the lobby even failed to gain a seat - at the 2020 Summit," Professor Spearitt said.
"Government has lost interest in heritage because it is seen as impeding development."
The forum called for the setting up of a national endowment fund for cultural heritage to complement funding for the natural environment.
The participants called for a focus on the sustainability of culture as well as the sustainability of buildings and landscape.
They called for the restoration of independent heritage agencies within all spheres of government.
A dissenting voice at the forum was that of the chief executive of the Property Council of Australia, Peter Verwer, who said property investors, particularly the large investors, had never been more committed to recognizing the heritage values of the nation's cities and investing in those values.
CSA: supporting families locally
The Child Support Agency has invited local government to join forces with it to help support separated parents throughout Australia.
The CSA says it recognises that local councils play an important and critical role for families in accessing information and support services on a local level.
The agency says that often, local councils are the first port of call for many of the 1.5 million parents registered with the CSA.
"This is why the CSA encourages a partnership with local councils Australia-wide to identify ways in which both bodies can work together to build a stronger support network for families," a CSA spokesperson said.
Councils could help by promoting a link on their websites to highlight the significant changes to the Child Support Scheme from July 1.
A new formula would calculate child support payments based on the costs of raising children of different age groups.
The balanced formula also took into account a range of other issues, found at www.csa.gov.au/schemereforms/.
"The CSA has a network of 27 regional service centres providing a more convenient face-to-face service for parents in rural and regional areas," the spokesperson said.
"This includes questions about child support calculations or payments, personalised outreach services or interviews and referrals to other support services." Details are at www.csa.gov.au
For larger employers, including councils, the CSA also offered a "Staying Connected" programme.
"This program provides employee support in the workplace and offers tips on getting back on track after separation," the spokesperson added.
"Many large employers have found they have more than recovered the initial cost of the programme through reduced absenteeism, lower staff turnover, reduced commercial losses and reductions in workplace accidents.
"The quicker an employee resumes a normal working life following separation, the less impact the relationship breakdown will have on the workplace.
"We invite councils to register online with the CSA's Community Service Directory - an information portal on organisations in the community assisting parents on a wide range of family related issues," the spokesperson said.
For more information, contact Katrina Baird (telephone 02-6272 8886 or email email@example.com) or visit CSA's website.
Quote of the week
"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)