ALGA will this month be holding its annual Strategic Board Meeting to develop a 2012 Action Plan and revise the 2011-2014 Strategic Plan.
Much consideration will be given to policy priorities and ALGA’s national campaign for constitutional recognition of local government.
The meeting comes after the release late last year of the final report of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, which found in favour of ALGA’s case for the financial recognition of councils.
The Expert Panel was appointed in August 2011 to identify options for the constitutional recognition of local government and report on the level of support among stakeholders and the broader community. It concluded that financial recognition had the broadest base of support. The report also indicated that all members of the Panel considered it to be appropriate that the Commonwealth’s right to have a direct funding relationship with local government be acknowledged in the Constitution.
Upon forming government in 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard committed to holding a referendum on constitutional recognition of local government by 2013, if the government could be persuaded that there was significant support for the cause.
ALGA is now awaiting the Commonwealth Government’s formal response to the Expert Panel’s final report, which is due early this year.
Telecommunications industry body, the Communications Alliance has indicated that it will be incorporating suggestions made by ALGA in a submission it made in September last year on the proposed Mobile Base Station Deployment Industry Code.
The revised Code replaces the existing 2004 Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure Industry Code, and aims to supplement the requirements already imposed on carriers under the existing legislative arrangements. The changes are designed to allow greater consultation with, and participation by, councils and the community in the decisions made by carriers when deploying mobile base stations and to provide greater transparency in planing, siting, installing and operating base stations. The Code is premised on the fact that public health and safety is of paramount importance in relation to both low impact and non-low impact facilities, and that a precautionary, more consultative approach should be adopted by carriers.
The requirement under the new Code that a consultation plan be developed for deployments not subject to a Development Approval, is a significant improvement and welcomed by ALGA. In its submission, ALGA noted that feedback it received from councils suggested that a five day consultation period would not be sufficient for councils to inspect a site, consult with neighbouring residents and prepare a written response.
The Communications Alliance accepted ALGA’s advice that the current Code’s requirement for councils to comment on consultation plans within five business days was unreasonable and that this period be extended to 10 business days, with a further five day extension if requested, extending the consultation period to 15 days if required.
The revised Code will now be submitted to the government agency responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for registration, with a commencement date of 1 July 2012.
The Code and Explanatory Statement can be downloaded from here.
ALGA officials highlighted local government’s role in infrastructure provision and the financial and capacity constraints facing rural and remote councils in particular during a conference exploring the provision of infrastructure in indigenous communities, held in Alice Springs this week.
The conference, Connecting the Dots, convened by Infrastructure Australia and attended by officers of federal, state and local government as well as indigenous representatives and non-government organisations, focused on the development of Infrastructure Australia’s new national strategic policy and funding model for infrastructure planning and development for indigenous areas.
ALGA emphasized the central commitment of councils across Australia to delivering local infrastructure but highlighted the massive infrastructure backlog faced by local government. ALGA also stressed the lack of resources and capacity in smaller remote councils which rely heavily on grants from other levels of government, the inadequacy of current grants and the need for much greater collaboration between the three tiers of government, especially in the Northern Territory where planning remains a territory responsibility.
As outlined in our top story this week, planning is well underway for a national campaign to have local government recognised in the Constitution, following the release late last year of the final report of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, which found in favour of ALGA’s case for the financial recognition of councils.
The Expert Panel, established by the Federal Government in June 2011, was asked to identify options for the constitutional recognition of local government and gauge the level of support for such recognition. It was also tasked with determining whether the majority of Australians would vote for constitutional recognition if the matter was put to a referendum. As President of ALGA, I represented the interests of the local government sector on the Panel, alongside President of the Local Government Association of Queensland, Cr Paul Bell AM.
After a process of consultation and independent polling, the Panel concluded that the financial recognition of local government, which would formalise the power of the Commonwealth to directly fund councils, is the option most likely to gain the support of the general community and from all sides of politics. The majority of the Panel supported a referendum on the issue in 2013 subject to the Commonwealth negotiating with state governments to achieve their support for the financial recognition option and the Commonwealth adopting steps suggested by ALGA to achieve informed and positive public engagement on the issue.
ALGA has argued in favour of financial recognition through a simple and pragmatic change to section 96 of the Constitution, to remove doubt about the Commonwealth’s capacity to fund local government. Ensuring that the Commonwealth Government can continue to directly fund local government is critical to the financial sustainability of the sector and its ability to provide the services that communities expect and deserve.
In the High Court case of Pape v Commissioner of Taxation (2009), the Commonwealth’s ability to deal directly with local government was brought into question because it is not included in the Constitution. This has in turn created uncertainty about the future funding of local government.
Programs such as the Roads to Recovery (R2R) program and the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program are crucial to the financial sustainability of local government and the wellbeing of communities across Australia. Since the R2R program was established in 2000, more than $3.5 billion in additional funding has been provided to local roads shared among about 560 councils in Australia.
Achieving recognition would provide local government with the certainty of receiving continued and direct Commonwealth funding such as R2R funding. This message has been reinforced in the Expert Panel’s final report and ALGA is now awaiting the Commonwealth Government’s response to the findings. During a recent meeting with Local Government Minister Simon Crean, the Minister indicated that the Government was supportive of the financial recognition option recommended by the Expert Panel and ALGA’s national campaign for constitutional recognition and would be handing down its response early this year.
In the meantime, ALGA and state associations of local government are working together to develop a national information campaign to outline the importance of securing ongoing direct federal funding for councils.
ALGA extends its sympathy to the families of local communities adversely affected by severe flooding in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.
The Federal Government this week activated disaster assistance for residents in Balonne, Barcaldine, Blackall-Tambo, Maranoa, Murweh and Paroo Local Government Areas in Queensland and the Gwydir, Moree and Narrabri Local Government Areas in New South Wales.
Flood-affected communities could be entitled to the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP), made available through Centrelink. The AGDRP is a one-off payment of $1000 per adult and $400 per child.
The payment is available to residents in these areas:
- who have been injured as a direct result of the floodwaters; or
- whose home has been significantly damaged or destroyed; or
- who were stranded in their home or unable to gain access to their home for at least 24 hours; or
- whose home was without electricity, water, gas, sewage services or another essential service for a continuous period of 48 hours.
Residents with internet access can lodge their claim online through the Human Services website or alternatively, claims can be made by calling 180 22 66.
A Senate inquiry into the use of fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in regional Australia has heard that the country is losing the ability to build roads and bridges and that a worsening skills crisis has resulted in a shortfall of more than 28,000 engineering jobs in road construction.
The Commonwealth departments of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and the Education, Employment and Workforce Relations appeared before Senate on Wednesday to give evidence regarding initiatives in place in regional education and skills development and Indigenous workforce initiatives.
In its submission, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia has called for mandatory national registration of engineers to protect the public from serious safety risks.
Three leading engineering academics - David Beanland, Roger Hadgraft and Aleksander Subic - told the inquiry that Australia's universities were failing to meet guidelines for engineering degree courses outlined in an international agreement, the Washington Accord, to which Australia is a signatory.
In a joint submission, they said major changes were required to address a 40 per cent failure and drop out rate among engineering students. The current system was producing narrowly-focused specialists, ''strong on technical knowledge and deficient in the personal capabilities required to be effective engineers''.
Submissions to the inquiry can be accessed from the House Regional Australia Committee’s website by clicking here.
The Australian Government this week launched a package of energy efficiency programs designed to drive smarter energy use in business, local government, households and communities for a clean energy future.
The programs will enable all Australians, regardless of where they live, or how much they earn to harness the opportunities of a low carbon future. They will be delivered in partnership with business, councils and community groups.
The investment in demonstrating smarter ways to use energy in Australian households, communities and businesses will create new job opportunities and stronger local economies.
The programs opened include:
- The Community Energy Efficiency Program – $200 million to assist local government, not-for-profit and community organisations to undertake energy efficiency upgrades to community infrastructure, including council buildings, stadiums, education facilities, town halls and nursing homes.
- The Low Income Energy Efficiency Program – $100 million to support groups of service providers to demonstrate smarter energy use in low income households across Australia.
- The Energy Efficiency Information Grants program – $40 million to support small and medium sized businesses and community groups by providing information and advice to make smarter energy choices.
Local government has often been a leader in the move towards a low carbon future. Wagga Wagga City Council, for example, has partnered with Low Carbon Australia to reduce its energy costs by nearly $60,000 each year. The agreement is a first for local government and a first for regional Australia.
The guidelines for each of these programs are available and applications open on February 13.
To find out more about the package of energy efficiency programs, click here.
To find out more about the Government’s plan for a clean energy future, click here.
Australia’s National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) is holding its annual national conference in Melbourne from 26-28 June, 2012. This year’s conference focuses on the information needed to ensure Australia is adapting well to climate change.
Over three days, NCCARF will bring together researchers, practitioners and decision-makers to share knowledge and research approaches that inform policy and practice in planning for climate change in Australia.
The 2012 Climate Adaptation in Action Conference will showcase the contribution of adaptation science to planning and policy making across Australia. It will explore how robust adaptation decisions can be made in the face of uncertainty.
For more information, click here.
New guidelines covering the assessment of the net social benefit when locating or removing a payphone have been finalised by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and are now in operation.
There has been a long history of community concern over the removal of payphones and despite the increase in mobile phone coverage and the increased ownership of mobile phones, payphones remain an essential and valued service in many communities.
ALGA provided comments to the ACMA’s consultation on the draft Payphone (Assessment of Net Social Benefit) Guidelines. The ACMA advised that it had considered all comments received and as a result made a number of minor amendments to the draft guidelines.
The final guidelines can be downloaded from the ACMA website.
The ACMA will now commence the development of new guidelines with the objective of improving the transparency of the facts upon which a proposed removal of the last remaining payphone at a site is based. A public consultation process is also proposed for these guidelines and ACMA has asked ALGA to again provide its comments.
The delivery of high-speed internet to some of the most remote communities in Australia has taken a leap forward following NBN Co’s selection of Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), a leading manufacturer of commercial broadband satellites, to build two next-generation Ka-band satellites.
The satellites, which are planned to launch in 2015, are designed to provide high-speed broadband
coverage to around three per cent of premises outside the reach of the NBN’s fibre optic and fixed wireless services, including outback areas and Australia’s external territories such as Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Macquarie Island and the Cocos Islands.
The contract, valued at approximately $620 million, follows a comprehensive, two-year procurement process undertaken by NBN Co. The contract is part of a total investment of approximately $2 billion that is required to deliver the NBN Long Term Satellite Service. Other agreements will cover the ground systems, end-user equipment and the space launch.
Until the two satellites are operational, NBN Co is operating an Interim Satellite Service which was set up to assist the transition from the Commonwealth’s Australian Broadband Guarantee program to the Long Term Satellite Service.
Expressions of Interest (EoIs) for positions on Regional Development Australia (RDA) committees are now open in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Victoria.
To give something back to your local community and contribute to the development and strength of your region, submit an EoI to join your region’s RDA committee.
Volunteers with vision and drive, who have community, industry or government experience and who are able to represent the broad interests of their region, understand local challenges and achieve results are invited to consider membership of the RDA committee in their region.
You will use your experience, skills and community knowledge to build partnerships with governments, regional development bodies, the private sector and community organisations.
RDA committees are representative of the diversity of each particular region. EoIs from people of all backgrounds are welcome. Women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with diverse cultural backgrounds, people with disabilities and people from across every age group are encouraged to submit an EoI. All EoIs will be considered against the skills and expertise needed by RDA committees.
Applications for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are encouraged by Friday 24 February 2012. Applications for Victoria are encouraged by Monday 5 March 2012.
To apply or to access more information, visit the RDA website.
Rural and regional councils in Northern New South Wales gathered in South West Rocks this week for the first of a series of meetings of councils being held across NSW during February and March.
Council Mayors and General Managers met with the President of the Shires Association of NSW, Cr Ray Donald, to discuss key issues of importance for local government in 2012.
President of the Shires Association of NSW, Cr Ray Donald, said the meetings - which were broken up into ‘Divisions’ according to geographic area - would help the Association further consider policies for the coming year and highlight issues of importance to be discussed at their conference in June.
“The issues faced by rural councils are vastly different from those experienced in metropolitan areas, so it’s important I get out to meet Mayors and General Managers and listen to these issues and concerns from our councils first hand,” says Cr Donald.
Some of the major topics on the agenda for the Divisional Tours for 2012 include: local water utilities, the NSW Government’s Planning Review and the Review of the Code of Conduct, constitutional recognition of local government, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, flood mitigation, emergency service levies, and improving funding for vital infrastructure like roads and bridges.
For a full list of meeting dates and locations of upcoming Divisional Tours, click here.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has announced the opening of the latest round of diversity and social cohesion grants, under the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program.
The DSCP provides the additional resources often needed by not-for-profit community organisations and local government authorities to develop their own projects and find their own ways of helping their community build stronger community relations.
The aim of DSCP funding is to:
- Promote respect, fairness and a sense of belonging for Australians of every race, culture and religion.
- Develop the community capacity building skills of specific community groups under significant pressure due to their cultural, religious or racial diversity.
Community organisations can apply for funding of up to $50,000 to develop projects that aim to address issues of cultural, racial or religious intolerance or to develop community capacity building skills. Projects must provide an opportunity for participation and interaction by different members of the community.
Applications must be lodged by Friday 9 March 2012.
For further information including the Application Information Booklet and application form, click here or phone 1800 453 004.
On 15-16 March 2012, the International Property Tax Institute in co-operation with NSW Revenue Professionals Society Inc., present a conference on Local Government Rates and Revenue - Leading the Change, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Heads of Valuation Agencies Conference.
Session topics to include:
- Global Perspective: Financial/Economic Trends in Post-Financial Crisis;
- Land Value vs Rental Value vs Capital Value for Rating and Taxing;
- Rates/Property Tax Regulation and Community: Processes, Trends, Impacts, Consultation, Independent Pricing and Regulation Tribunal (IPART);
- Natural Disasters: Recovery and Rates/Tax Relief;
- Environmental Upgrade Agreements (EUA’s); and
- Alternative Revenue Sources for Local Government.
Vibe Hotel Rushcutters Bay, 100 Bayswater Road, Sydney, NSW
1 March 2012
For program and registration details, click here.