Regional boost assured, and new Ministry possible
In the deal announced on 7 September 2010 to form Australia's next Federal Government, the Prime Minister has confirmed that $9.9 billion will be spent on regional programs across Australia. The spending, put together to win the support of the rural independents, appears to include a mix of new money, repackaged promises and local handouts. The Australian Financial Review (8 September 2010) reported that 'less than a tenth' will be for new programs over the next four years and that 'most of the spending is from policies which had already been outlined by Labor, including $6 billion for regional infrastructure underwritten by the minerals resource rent tax, and much of it will occur after the next election. Just $763 million is for new measures....'
As part of the package, the Australian Government will ensure that all customers, irrespective of location, will pay the same wholesale prices for high-speed internet access under the National Broadband Network, and regional areas will be the first to receive services under the new system.
The major new injection of money is an $800 million Priority Regional Infrastructure Program to be spent in the five years to 2016. Whilst details have still to be released, this funding will go towards local projects identified by regional communities. Much of the rest of the package involves carving out a specific one-third share of existing programs for the regions. The Australian Government will also allocate at least a third of its budgeted $123 million to upgrade health services to regional areas and will do the same with a $200 million pledge to pay for vocational training, a $388 million policy to reward the country's most improved schools, and a $47 million policy to help provide principals with more autonomy in running schools.
A new round of payments from the $1.8 billion Health and Hospitals Fund will be exclusively applied to regional Australia. A $500 million round of funding from the Education Investment Fund will also be sliced off for the regions.
"In total, this means, for regional Australia, they can look forward to benefits in the order of $9.9 billion," Prime Minister Gillard said.
Mr Windsor was reported to have won a $20 million commitment for a new teaching and training facility at Tamworth Hospital, in his electorate of New England. Mr Oakeshott has been promised $35 million to accelerate work on the Pacific Highway between Kempsey and Port Macquarie, in his electorate of Lyne.
Another $20 million will pay for a new university campus on the NSW mid-north coast, provided it is agreed to by the Education Investment Fund. The Port Macquarie Base Hospital may also receive a $75 million expansion.
It has also been reported in the Australian Financial Review (8 September 2010) that Rob Oakeshott has been offered a Cabinet position as the Minister for a new Regional Affairs portfolio.
AusCivics Film Festival launches in Broken Hill then goes national
Mayor Wincen Cuy of Broken Hill City Council will launch the first ever AusCivics Film Festival in Broken Hill on September 11, 2010. The festival will then move nationally around the country encouraging the local community and particularly school students to attend and watch 2 hours of innovative, entertaining and exciting civics material in the form of short films and the feature film for 2010, "Broken Hill" which has received praise internationally.
The film festival in Albury will coincide with the Local Government Association of New South Wales' Annual Conference in Albury this October and the Executive Director of the Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA), the organisation behind the AusCivics project, is inviting all Mayors to attend the premiere of the film festival in Albury on October 25th at 6pm at the Regent Cinema, 456 Dean Street Albury. "Our office has been working with various Mayors all over Australia to bring this festival to their LGA. AusCivics is part of a 10 year plan in civics education and we hope to encourage Mayors who we are yet to work with, see first hand the kind of material we are bringing to students, teachers and the community through this festival."For more information on AusCivics, or to purchase tickets to any of the festivals, please go to www.auscivics.org.au
Victorian Parliamentary Committee Reports on Federal State Road Funding arrangements
The Victorian Parliament's Road Safety Committee reported on its Inquiry into Federal-State road funding arrangements on 1 September 2010.
The Committee found that the Australian Government's contribution to total national road funding remains the least of Australia's three tiers of government and that this is inequitable given that it raises significantly greater revenue, and has significantly greater capacity to raise revenue, than state and local governments. This situation, called 'vertical fiscal imbalance', has an especially negative impact on the quality and safety of Australia's local roads and should be redressed as a national priority, according to the Committee.
The Committee also found that local governments have faced mounting cost pressures in recent years alongside a simultaneous real reduction in Federal funding, because the Commonwealth has not considered roads as a high priority.
The Committee has recommended a redistribution of the local roads grant based on a greater weighting of state and territory populations and the development of a nationally consistent road classification system to be the basis for equitable states' shares.
In relation to the Roads to Recovery Program, the Committee found the matching funding requirement places councils, particularly rural and regional councils, at a disadvantage since they generally have less capacity to raise the necessary revenue from their own sources. The Committee recommends that this be abolished for councils where rate bases do not allow a matching contribution.
The Committee has further recommended that 50 per cent of the annual fuel excise revenue collected by the Commonwealth be hypothecated to roads, and that the majority of this hypothecated revenue should be allocated to local roads under the Roads to Recovery Program. The remainder of the fuel excise revenue should then be allocated to state arterials, highways and freeways, as well as to improvements to the road interface with public transport.
The Committee received evidence advocating the adoption of comprehensive road pricing. The Committee noted that there were significant uncertainties regarding the way in which such a scheme might be implemented, the extent to which it would actually increase the current level of road funding and that it had not been adopted anywhere in the world to date. The Committee concludes that private efficient financing such as Public Private Partnerships, as well as the prudent use of government debt, represent the most appropriate means of developing new sources of road financing in the foreseeable future.
The Committee found that federal funding for road safety is currently inadequate and has recommended a significant increase in the level of Black Spot funding, saying that this funding should be dedicated to local roads.
The Committee's report can be found here. The ALGA submission to the Inquiry can be found here.
Youth Road Safety
The National Road Safety Council believes young motorists should be driving their parents' cars rather than the low-priced "old bomb" first cars that so many P-platers find themselves behind the wheel of.
Speaking at the Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference, National Road Safety Council Chairman Roger Cook said that the youth road toll could be dramatically cut if parents handed over their own cars - particularly for night driving. Mr Cook said that research had shown more than 400 lives could be saved each year if Australians bought the safest car in its class, while around 8000 injuries would be prevented.
"The average age of the Australian car fleet is 10 years. The risk of death or serious injury in a crash in a vehicle made in 1987 is about double that of a vehicle made in 2007," Mr Cook said. "We need to get drivers, young drivers in particular, into safer cars."
Mr Cook said that features we take for granted in new cars, such as ABS and newer technologies packaged with ESP systems, are absent from many cars driven by P-platers. Mr Cook added that if Australian and State Government departments purchased only independently-tested 5-star cars, the number of safe cars on the second-hand market would increase rapidly thanks to the fast turnover on most government fleets.
Andrew Wilkie - Independent MP
In recent editions of ALGA News, we have provided profiles of three of the four independent MPs who will sit in the next Federal Parliament. This week, we profile Andrew Wilkie, the new member for Denison. His electorate is located in Tasmania and includes Hobart.
Mr Wilkie is a former Army lieutenant colonel who made national headlines as 'the only intelligence official in Australia, the UK and US to question the Iraq war publicly before Australia joined the invasion in 2003' (see his website).
Mr Wilkie, who is 48 years old, previously stood as a candidate for the Greens at the 2007 Federal Election, having been a member of the Greens from 2003 to 2008. He also ran as an independent candidate earlier this year for a seat in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, being defeated by 315 votes. The Tasmanian election also resulted in a minority Labor government.
During his Tasmanian election campaign, Mr Wilkie's main focus was on pokie machines, an issue he again nominated for the 2010 Federal Election. Other 'big issues' identified by Mr Wilkie, about 17 in total, included aged care, economic development, disability, climate change and asylum seekers. Local government was not specifically nominated, however in his agreement with the ALP, he has called for referenda on indigenous recognition as well as recognition of local government.
Mr Wilkie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Graduate Diploma of Management and a Graduate Diploma of Defence Studies. He has received Awards including the Australian Intelligence Community Medallion (twice), Australia Day Achievement Medallion, UN Association of Australia Whistleblower Award, Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association Civil Justice Award and Free Speech Victoria Voltaire Award. His book, Axis of Deceit, about what he describes as 'the dishonesty behind the Iraq war' is a best seller.
Media this week reports that Mr Wilkie is married to a former staffer of Duncan Kerr MP, the Labor MP for Denison who retired at the 2010 Federal Election; he also has two daughters.
Key Federal parliamentary reforms negotiated by Independents
This week, the major parties and the independent MPs Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott announced a range of parliamentary reforms that will be observed throughout the next Parliament. The reforms, announced on 6 September 2010, include reforms to the Speaker position, Question Time, Committees, Parliamentary proceedings and financial costings. Recognition of traditional owners will now take place before prayers each sitting day and a register of lobbyists will be published online. Reforms include:
- Reforms to the position of the Speaker (House of Representatives)
- The Speaker will be independent of government and if the speaker is drawn from one party, the Deputy Speaker will be drawn from the other party. Both will abstain from voting in the party room. The independent Speaker will ensure that private members' Bills, rarely debated in the past, will reach the Senate.
- Question Time
- The role of the executive will be pared back during Question Time, where the time limit for questions will be 45 seconds and answers will be limited to 4 minutes, and Question Time must finish by 3.30pm. The leader of the Opposition or his/her delegate can ask one supplementary question.
- Parliamentary Proceedings
- There will be limits on the length of ministerial statement speeches, to 10 minutes in most cases, thereby allowing MPs greater opportunities to raise issues relating to their electorates. Speeches on Matters of Public Importance will be extended to a maximum of 90 minutes and a formal code of conduct for MPs and Senators will be formulated by a cross-party group of Parliamentarians, overseen by the Privileges Committee.
- The number of Standing Committees will be reduced from 11 to 9, with a membership of 7, drawn from both parties and the cross benches. All bills will immediately stand referred to the Selection of Bills Committee and on the word of one member will be referred to a Standing Committee or Joint Committee. The government is bound to respond to reports within 6 months or provide reasons why it has failed to so.
- Financial scrutiny and costings
- A Parliamentary Budget Office will be created to provide independent costings, financial analysis and research to all members of parliament. A Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner will be appointed to report to the Privileges Committee.
In more recent announcements, the Premier of NSW says that a joint select committee will review the reforms to see whether they can be adopted in the NSW State Parliament.
Is it Your Shout Again?:Uncovering Councils' Hidden Alcohol Costs
ICLEI Oceania's Cities for Safe and Healthy Communities program has developed a new economic model to help councils calculate how much they really spend each year on alcohol. The model separates the amount councils spend on responding to alcohol-related problems (e.g. alcohol-related waste management, property damage to council assets, management of relevant local laws) from operational and preventative costs. This ratio can help councils track the return on their investment in preventing alcohol related harms, and target strategies that reduce some of the most expensive problems.
For every dollar the council spent on prevention (e.g. community safety and health promotion staffing and projects), it spent $2.78 on mopping up the impacts of alcohol and 43 cents in operational costs (e.g. assessment of planning and licensing approvals, licensees' accords management).
The Costs to Council Calculator is available as part of the CSHC Alcohol Harm Reduction program's baseline dataset. The dataset interlocks with other resources, such as best practice guides, peer support networks and workshops designed to meet the needs of local government practitioners.
This can be useful for funding submissions, advocacy, more accurate program evaluation, tracking long term changes and calculating savings for council operations.
Please contact Peter Streker, the CSHC Director on (03) 9660 2233 or email@example.com or click here to find out more.
WCAG 2.0 Blog
Following the endorsement of Version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) for government websites in late 2009, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is progressing plans to implement the new web standard, develop the National Transition Strategy (NTS) and work one-on-one with agencies to find solutions to common (and sometimes uncommon) accessibility issues. As local government has a strong interest in accessibility issues, councils are encouraged to access and participate in a new blog created by AGIMO which brings together the WCAG 2.0 Community of Expertise. It can be accessed here.
Governments urged to look urgently at South East Queensland housing market
A new study commissioned by the Local Government Association of Queensland has shown the urgency for federal and state governments to rethink their strategies for the south-east Queensland (SEQ) housing market, the association's CEO, Greg Hallam, said recently.
Mr Hallam released The Econometric Analysis of the Determinants of SEQ Housing Prices undertaken by the AEC Group, University of Queensland and rpdata.com late last month.
"The analysis provides a description and explanation of the relationship between real median prices of SEQ houses, units and land in relation to supply and demand factors," he said. "It shows clearly that the SEQ market behaves differently to other capital city markets, and deserves closer attention by the two senior government sectors.
"The research shows the number of SEQ dwellings has increased faster than population over all census periods, resulting in the number of dwellings per 100 population increasing from 38.1 in 1991 to 41.1 in 2006.
"What this study has done has refuted for all time the spurious arguments of a so-called under-supply of dwellings in the SEQ market.
"Local government has undertaken this important research, because we are part of the solution not the problem.
"The research does not come cheaply. We hope the federal and state governments can pick up the analysis, use it effectively and continue the research on a continuing basis," Mr Hallam said. The report recommends that follow up research should be undertaken in order to ensure a better understanding of the supply and demand side factors impacting the SEQ housing market. The research paper can be accessed through the LGAQ website.
The report can be accessed here.
Melbourne's Western edge now Australia's fastest growing region
The fastest growing region in Australia is no longer the Gold Coast but the Western edge of Melbourne, finds KPMG research.
The analysis by KPMG demographer, Bernard Salt, shows that the municipalities of Wyndham and Melton added 18,000 new residents over the 12 months to June 2009, as compared with 17,000 added to the Gold Coast.
"This extraordinary growth in Melbourne's West has come out of the blue," says Mr Salt.
"Just ten years earlier this region was attracting approximately 4,000 new residents per year, but is now attracting more people than the Gold Coast", Mr Salt adds.
Mr Salt says housing affordability may be a key driver of growth in the West.
"There are new house and land packages on the market in Werribee for less than $280,000, compared to Melton South where packages start at around $260,000," says Mr Salt.
The analysis also revealed that over the next decade the Western edge is projected to add 175,000 people and 82,000 dwellings. Much of this will occur in the growth areas that lie to the north of Werribee and to the west of Deer Park.
"Population growth at this pace and scale means more demand for social infrastructure such as houses, shops, schools, roads, medical centres and sporting grounds," says Mr Salt.
"One could say Melbourne is rebalancing to the West. In fact, much of the story of Melbourne's growth in the early 21st century will be created in the West," Mr Salt adds.
Female board representation hits 10 per cent
Women now make up 10 per cent of the directors of Australia's top listed companies, according to recent figures by the Australian Institute of Company Directors. The appointment of Sam Mostyn to the Board of Virgin Blue Limited pushed the women's quota on ASX 200 boards from 8.3 percent earlier this year to 10 percent.
Although this does not seem a huge step for womankind, so far in 2010, 36 women have been appointed to ASX 200 boards, compared to only 10 for the whole of 2009. According to the statistics, 27 per cent of appointees this year, or one in four, have been female. This compares to 5 per cent in 2009 and 8 per cent in both 2007 and 2008. In the last month (since 10 August) Woolworths Limited, OneSteel Limited, Boral Limited, UGL Limited and Virgin Blue Limited have appointed women to their boards, according to the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Chief Executive of the Institute, John Colvin, said the 10 per cent ceiling "represents an important landmark in the drive to achieve greater board diversity in Australia". He admitted that there was still a long way to go, but initiatives being taken in this area are starting to have an effect, however "certainly, more progress needs to be made."
We hope this upward trend continues.
Study finds low uptake on swine flu vaccine - 19 per cent
Only 19 per cent of Australians availed themselves of the free vaccine against the swine flu virus H1N1, according to a report published by the Medical Journal of Australia this week. The report says that this was much lower than the 50 per cent target required to contain transmission throughout the community. The research, conducted in Western Australia from late September 2009 to late January 2010, concluded that the vaccination rate in Western Australia was comparable to the national estimate of 19 per cent.
Factors contributing to the low uptake may have included: the public and the vaccine providers' perceptions that the vaccine caused mild illness; side effects; and media coverage about the safety of the vaccine. A further factor could have been that the inoculation campaign fell in the spring period rather than the traditional pre-winter period. In a separate study in Western Australia, it was found that pregnant women also had a low uptake of the vaccine even though they were a high risk group, citing safety concerns as their primary reason for not having the vaccination. The reports are available here and here.
Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website - feedback sought
The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse is reminding readers that it is seeking feedback on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website here and thanks those who have already responded to the User Satisfaction Survey here. Feedback will help improve the website and closes on 13 September 2010.
National Interpreter Symbol
All local councils are encouraged to use the National Interpreter Symbol advertising the availability of an interpreter if needed; and promote its use to staff and clients.
The Interpreter Symbol was developed and tested by the Victorian Multicultural Commission with assistance from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The symbol was one of five variations designed and tested in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales with over 580 people from a range of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Testing was conducted according to Australian Standard 2342: Development, testing and implementation of information and safety symbols and symbolic signs.
You can download the interpreter symbol, and order a range of related free-of-charge resources, here.
Refugee Welcome Zones: tell us how your council has welcomed refugees!
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is seeking information from local councils which have signed the Refugee Welcome Zone declaration about policies, projects, activities or services that have been implemented to welcome refugees to their community and support their settlement in Australia. The information will be used to develop online resources to support councils in taking positive action in support of the declaration. Please contact Lucinda on (02) 9211 9333 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketplace of Ideas - Call for Applications
The Melbourne Forum (10-12 October, 2010), organised by the Global Dialogue Foundation (GDF) under the auspices of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, will showcase some of the most innovative and successful grassroots initiatives aimed at promoting mutual understanding among people and cultures in the Asia-Pacific Region.
This event will be held in the presence of business and political leaders, policy makers, influential civil society leaders, media, heads of religious communities and academics.
The Global Dialogue Foundation is looking for long-term partnerships with creative grassroots projects that drive change by:
- contributing to mutual understanding among diverse communities and cultures;
- helping to overcome cultural, religious, and ethnic tensions;
- building peace
Civil society organisations are invited to submit applications by 22 September 2010. Representatives of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the Global Dialogue Foundation will review all applications and select best essays for further support, by September 30, 2010.
Further information can be found here.
Quote of the week
"When she got the Labor leadership, Gillard declared that she intended to model her leadership style on the consensus approach of her political hero, Bob Hawke. She could not have imagined when she said that, that she would have to govern without a majority....." - Geoff Kitney, Australian Financial Review, 8 September 2010
US President Barack Obama has announced plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on a huge infrastructure project to create jobs and boost confidence in the American economy. Mr Obama is promising to put Americans back to work by rebuilding many of the country's roads, railways and airport runways. His US$50 billion plan involves rebuilding more than 240,000 kilometres of roads and 6,000 kilometres of railways, although the president has warned that there is no quick fix for the American economy.
"I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world - we can have it again, we are going to make it happen", he said.
The latest unemployment figures showed the US jobless rate running at 9.6 per cent after a net loss of 54,000 jobs. Mr Obama is under pressure to do more to create jobs and bring down the stubbornly high unemployment rate. Economists are sceptical any measures Mr Obama takes now will make a significant difference in the US economy and point out that investments in infrastructure typically do not stimulate the economy quickly.
While Mr Obama declared some jobs would be created "immediately" under the plan, a senior Obama administration official said the proposed infrastructure overhaul would not have an immediate impact on the economy and said the first jobs would not be created until 2011.