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7 Dec 2012

Joint Select Committee schedules first public hearing

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The Joint Select Committee appointed to inquire into changing the Australian Constitution to provide for the financial recognition of local government will conduct its first public hearing on 16 January, 2013.

The public hearing will provide stakeholders, such as state and territory local government associations and state and territory governments, with the opportunity to address the Committee first-hand on the proposed wording for the constitutional amendment and other related issues.

Following the Committee's first meeting on 29 November, it immediately called for submissions. 

According to Committee Chair and Labor MP, Michelle Rowland, the Committee is "keen to hear from stakeholders on the proposed amendment, and especially its wording".

ALGA is seeking an amendment of Section 96 of the Constitution so that it would read: 'Parliament may grant financial assistance to any state or local government body formed by or under a law of a state or territory on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit'.  This pragmatic change to the Constitution would add councils to state governments as the possible beneficiaries of federal funds without affecting the relationship that exists between state and local governments.

ALGA has long argued that financial recognition of local governments in the Constitution is the only way to protect direct federal funding for community services and infrastructure.  Two recent High Court cases - Pape and Williams - cast doubt on the validity of direct funding of local councils by the federal government and have made these programs vulnerable to further High Court challenges.

ALGA has provided each council in the country with a 10-page booklet which articulates why local government needs to be recognised in the Constitution and all councils are encouraged to use the document as a guide when making submissions to the Committee.

The Committee's full terms of reference are available at www.aph.gov.au/jsclg and submissions addressing the terms of reference must be received by 15 February, 2013.

Nominate now for National Awards for Local Government Excellence

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Local governments across Australia have an opportunity to be recognised and rewarded for the innovative and new ways they support and serve their communities through the 27th National Awards for Local Government.

Local Government Minister Simon Crean this week announced that the 2013 National Awards for Local Government are now open for entries.

Mr Crean said that the National Awards showcase the Federal Government’s partnership with local government by recognising the important role local councils have in making communities more liveable and sustainable.

"It is important for us to tap into local councils' expertise and work together in partnership to develop creative solutions to address emerging social, economic and environmental issues," Mr Crean said.

"Local governments are the closest to their communities and underpin location-based solutions to meet community-specific needs.

"The Federal Government recognises the vital role local government plays in communities and this is why we're progressing the case for Constitutional Recognition for Local Government as well as providing councils with $2.1 billion in annual support through the Financial Assistance Grants."

Mr Crean said the 2013 Award categories were broad this year, representing the extensive work of local government.  They include Active Arts; Excellence in Road Safety; Strength in Diversity; Regional Collaborations, Asset and Financial Management, and Excellence in Tourism.

"The National Awards for Local Government have recognised, rewarded and promoted the innovative work of local governments across Australia for more than a quarter of a century now," Mr  Crean said.

"I urge all councils to enter the 2013 Awards to showcase local initiatives and recognise individuals within their councils who have gone to extraordinary efforts to implement innovative solutions at a national level."

Entries close 15 February 2013.  For more information on the 2013 National Awards for Local Government visit www.regional.gov.au or contact Awards@regional.gov.au

State of Australian Cities report released

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The State of Australian Cities 2012 was launched this week by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, providing a snapshot of Australia's 18 major cities with populations of more than 100,000 people.

Key findings of the report indicate that Melbourne and Sydney between them have absorbed nearly 40 per cent of the nation's population growth since 2001.

Minister Albanese highlighted that planning for the future would be a highly significant issue.

"One thing we do know is that how well we plan, invest in, and manage our cities will determine how well we prosper in this powerful Asian region," Minister Albanese said.

"Our cities have to be more productive.  Narrowing the distance between where people live and where they work needs to be at the forefront of urban planning in coming years.

"If we don't address this, there will be major consequences for the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our major cities."

ALGA, through its involvement in the national Healthy Spaces and Places program, continues to be heavily involved in planning, designing and creating sustainable communities that encourage healthy living.  

Healthy Spaces and Places demonstrates how, through proper planning of the built environment, Australians can be more active more often, helping to reduce the increasing prevalence of preventable disease in Australia, encourage social inclusion through greater opportunities to interact with others in the community and reduce carbon emissions as more people walk, jog, cycle or use public transport. 

Minister Albanese said that the Government was "on a mission to build the nation and to provide the critical infrastructure and transport links that will allow us to advance and grow".

"When we came to office, the well-being and future of our cities barely rated a mention in the national conversation.  With the help of state, territory and local governments, as well as industry, business and the community, we are turning this around," Minister Albanese said.

To access the report of provide feedback on the State of Australian Cities 2012,click here.

President's Column

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This week, communities across the country recognised Monday, 3 December, as the International Day of People with a Disability (IDPwD).  The day focussed on removing  barriers in the physical environment, information and communications technology, from legislation or policy, or societal attitudes and discrimination.

Hundreds of events are held around the country each year to raise awareness throughout the community.  Last year, more than 700 events were staged.  Many councils across Australia are working to remove barriers to inclusion of people with disability, so they can participate fully in their society.  Experience shows that when this happens, the entire community benefits. 

As a Mayor, I know the critical role councils can play in planning and creating sustainable communities  which encourage healthy living and social inclusion for all members in society.  Local government, in partnership with the other levels of government  and the private sector, is a key player in making premises and infrastructure more accessible to all in their communities and promoting social inclusion.

All levels of Government in Australia have been involved in development of a Strategy to improve the lives of people with disability - the National Disability Strategy.  Each level of government has identified specific actions they can take to  improve outcomes, and local government is an important player in this area as it deals on a day-to-day basis with the communication and implementation of the initiatives of the other two levels of government.   The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has driven the development of the National Disability Strategy, and as part of this initiative, I have nominated as the Local Government Champion.   As the Local Government representative on COAG and on many of COAG's ministerial councils, I see the work that all levels of government are doing to achieve real change in this area.

COAG meets again today and discussions about the NDIS between various levels of government are expected to be given priority.  COAG is committed to a national approach to supporting people with disability to maximise their potential and participate in Australian society.  I look forward to updating you on our work, as part of COAG, to address the challenges faced by people with a disability and encourage you to continue to provide facilities and infrastructure which enables everyone in our community to access it.

Mayor Felicity-ann Lewis
ALGA President

Key Federal Politicians invited to the 2013 NGA

Planning for next year's National General Assembly (NGA) is already well underway. The NGA will be held at the National Convention Centre from 16-19 June 2013.

Themed Foundations for the Future - Twenty 13 the NGA promises to provide a platform for the local government election campaign, an opportunity for us examine the policy initiatives impacting on local government, and to discuss and debate the critical issues relating to our communities and us as a sector.

This week ALGA's President, Mayor Felicity-ann Lewis  wrote to a number of key federal politicians inviting them to address the 2013 NGA.  Given the NGA will most likely be held in the lead up to a federal election, it provides an important platform for direct engagement between federal and local government as well as for local governments to come together in providing a united voice to call on each of the major parties ahead of the election.

The politicians invited to address the NGA are the:

  • Prime Minister
  • Leader of the Opposition
  • Leader of the Australian Greens
  • Leader of the Nationals
  • Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government
  • Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water

ALGA will be writing to all councils with more detailed information about the NGA as well providing  documentation for the call for motions in the New Year.  In the meantime, keep checking ALGA News for NGA updates.

Fund helps Australians get ready for an NDIS

The Australian Government has announced the 73 successful projects that will share funding from the $10 million Practical Design Fund to help prepare for the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The Practical Design Fund identifies practical solutions and innovative approaches to assist people with disability, their families and carers and the disability sector get ready for the NDIS.

Minister for Disability Reform Jenny Macklin said the investment will help prepare people with disability and their carers, the disability sector and the workforce for new ways of accessing and delivering disability services.

"The Practical Design Fund will also help providers and suppliers of equipment make the transition to an NDIS, and help improve access to supports in remote and regional communities," Ms Macklin said.

"The National Disability Insurance Scheme will fundamentally change the way we support people with disability.

"An essential part of getting the change right is to have practical strategies that will work in the real world and that’s what these projects will help us do," Ms Macklin said.

The organisations receiving funding include Carpentaria Disability Service which will receive $172,000 to help increase the number of Indigenous people trained as disability workers in remote communities.

Ability Technology Ltd also received $141,380 to develop an interactive website to allow people to explore the assistive technology options available to them.

A full list of the organisations receiving funding as part of the Practical Design Fund can be found at here.

Full roll out of NDIS in NSW by 2018

The Australian and New South Wales governments this week reached an historic agreement that will allow for the full roll out of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in New South Wales by July 2018.

The agreement will provide care and support to around 140,000 NSW residents with significant disability, and provide coverage in the event of disability to around one third of the Australian population.

It will provide peace of mind to people with a disability, their families and carers, and to the Australians who will unexpectedly face misfortune in the future.

It will give people with disability choice and control over the care and support they receive, rather than exposing them to the cruel lottery that currently exists, where care depends on a range of unpredictable factors.

Under the agreement reached this week:

  • The Commonwealth will provide funding of $3.32 billion in 2018 - 51.4 per cent of the funding needed. This will cover the administration of the scheme and contribute to the cost of individual care and support packages and other supports for people with disability, their carers and their families.
  • New South Wales will provide more than $3.13 billion in 2018 - 48.6 per cent of the funding needed. This will contribute to the cost of individual packages and other supports for people with disability, their carers and their families.
  • The full scheme costs will be reviewed by the Productivity Commission in 2018-19 to inform COAG agreement on final scheme funding arrangements.

An NDIS will also be launched in South Australia, Tasmania, the Barwon region of Victoria and the ACT.

Tourism Infrastructure Regional Fund: 14 December deadline

Australian Shadow Minister for Tourism and Regional Development Bob Baldwin has reminded Australia’s 62 Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs), and all Shires, Councils and associated Local Tourism Organisations (LTOs) that nine days remain before tourism infrastructure grants close for the current round.

The Tourism Industry Regional Development Fund has $42.9 million available for grants in total, with $7.12 million available to be committed in 2013-14.

The funding was made available as a ‘sweetener’ to ensure the passage of the government’s tax hike to the Passenger Movement Charge in this year’s budget.

Mr Baldwin said it is vital that RTOs and LTOs submit applications to properly fund "demand driver" infrastructure projects.

"It's a waste of taxpayer funds to pay for ‘support infrastructure' that delivers no strategic benefit to regions, including ‘motel makeovers' that skew markets and ruin investor confidence and market transparency," Mr Baldwin said.

Mr Baldwin said the tourism industry is keen to see a demand driver (attractions and events) - focused system that:

  1. maximises tourist activity;
  2. is fair and transparent;
  3. avoids charges of pork barrelling;
  4. appropriately shares resources between states;
  5. supports state and local governments in their forward funding of worthy projects;
  6. provides a way for funding applicants to understand their ‘place in the queue’, (helping them run their organisations or businesses)
  7. generates standard information across all projects, and a measure of financial Return On Investment; or ‘public good’
  8. allow project managers to raise private capital investment (and potentially re-submitting applications as Public Private Parnerships).

Mr Baldwin commended a recent statement by Hon Anthony Albanese about the Tourism & Transport Forum’s "Infrastructure Policy and Priorities" guide.  This provides principles that should continue to motivate government decision making - as it did with funding for Tasmania’s Three Capes Track project.

The Coalition will hold the government to these principles when the grants are announced.

TIRF program guidelines are available here.

Social Inclusion Week 2012 a huge success

Australia celebrated social inclusion week 26 Nov - 2 Dec 2012 with more than 180 community events to build and strengthen family, work and community relationships.  The Minister for Social Inclusion,  Mark Butler MP, launched Social Inclusion Week at a Day of Hope and Inspiration conference on dementia hosted by the aged care ACH Group.  

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the Social Inclusion Unit celebrated by hosting an Inter-agency Touch Footy Tournament and BBQ.  The Attorney General’s Department won the final match and funds raised were donated to Carers ACT.  PM&C screened a documentary featuring service delivery for families facing barriers to inclusion; and held a Social Inclusion Week Happy Hour get together.

Around the country, more than 200 radio stations broadcast social inclusion messages, and many newspapers featured social inclusion articles.  Find out more about street parties and other social inclusion week events, or check out videos by the Minister for Social Inclusion and ambassadors Patrick McGorry and Geva Mentor.

Reverse recycling rewards

The City of Fremantle has continued its aim to bring in a number of measures to make the city greener, introducing a reverse vending machine in Kings Square recently that saw locals and tourists rewarded for inserting cans and bottles.

The machine was part of the city's Cash for Container promotion, where bottles or cans with the ‘10 cent refund in South Australia’ label cans and bottles are inserted in return for 10 cents.

The initiative also involves a number of bins being given to seven local schools, where students can place their containers and again receive a coin in return.

A City of Fremantle spokesperson said the promotion came about in support of the Western Australian Local Government Association which is advocating for a state-wide container deposit scheme to be introduced in WA.

Get Up To Speed digital skills training program

The digital age has dramatically changed the way we do business.  There are so many new technologies and constant changes; it can be hard to keep up with it all.

The Get Up To Speed program is a 12 week program designed to do just as its name suggests: help your business get up to speed with new technologies, and to apply them to your business situation. The Broadband Today Alliance is again presenting the opportunity for businesses to participate in the Get Up to Speed program aimed at helping them operate their businesses online and succeed online.

The Get Up To Speed Program, is funded by Skills Queensland; presented by Broadband Today Alliance (an amalgamation of 125+ councils across Australia and New Zealand) and will be developed and delivered by The Creative Collective, an agency with extensive experience in delivering training on behalf of Government organisations. After two successful rounds of the program conducted in 2012 a third round is being run, commencing in February 2013,  to ensure that even more businesses can get access to it.

The program aims to make businesses aware of the opportunities available through digital solutions like the NBN and will help local businesses develop critical skills and knowledge of current and emerging digital technologies and how they can help your business to grow.  The entire program is delivered online allowing busy business professionals to study in a flexible manner around their work and family commitments.  The program will feature weekly webinars, weekly eLessons, a private Facebook group and a dedicated online resource portal.

Places in the program are available at $295 (Qld residents) $595 (Non-Qld residents) and are expected to fill up fast.

For more information visit www.getuptospeed.com.au

Alternatively, there is a no-obligation introductory information webinar on Thursday, 13 December - 12.30-1.30pm Queensland time.  To register for this  webinar, visit: http://www.getuptospeed.com.au/events.

Guiding councils' ratepayer hardship practices

A new report into council debt collection practices will help inform further work to guide how local government responds to people facing severe financial hardship.

Cr Bill McArthur, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) said that despite relatively few unpaid rates debts resulting in court action, it was a serious matter that warranted further investigation.

"There is clear room for improvement in how councils approach their debt collection.  While court proceedings were only used to recover 0.25 per cent of all council rates bills in 2010-11, the impacts can be devastating for the people affected.

"We know that many people experiencing debt can be difficult to engage, and will often not seek professional advice or even acknowledge there is a problem.

"Debt-related troubles can often be a symptom of more serious financial hardship, and may also be clustered around issues such as ill health, unemployment and other disadvantage.

"We were pleased to be involved in the work undertaken by the Federation of Community Legal Centres and Footscray Community Legal Centre.

"Their report provides valuable insight into the perspectives of people with rates debts, as well as the many differing approaches adopted by councils towards financial hardship.

"The findings were presented to the first meeting of the MAV’s Rates Hardship Working Group last month.

"Our Rates Hardship Working Group hopes to bridge this gap with further work already underway to develop guidance for councils on hardship practices," he said.

The Council debt collection: Alternatives to suing ratepayers in hardship report by the Federation of Community Legal Centres and Footscray Community Legal Centre analysed Magistrates Court data between 2003-04 and 2010-11; examined hardship practices of councils and other sectors; and investigated the impacts experienced by affected community members.

For a copy of the ‘Council debt collection’ report, click here.

Yarra is Victoria's first carbon neutral council

Yarra City Council has been recognised as Victoria's first carbon neutral council under the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS).

Newly-elected Mayor Jackie Fristacky said achieving certification, through Low Carbon Australia’s carbon neutral program, was an important milestone to celebrate in the Council’s journey towards long-term sustainability.

"We knew we were heading in the right direction when Yarra was named Victoria’s Sustainable City of the Year in 2011, so it is wonderful to be able to say Yarra is now carbon neutral," Cr Fristacky said.

"Becoming carbon neutral by 2012 was a goal Council set for itself in 2008 when drafting the Yarra Environment Strategy.

"This certification means Council has met Australia’s benchmark for achieving carbon neutrality, and we are delighted to be the first Victorian Council to achieve that status.   

"What it means is that Council has invested in accredited renewable energy projects that offset emissions we create as an organisation. 

"Yarra Council continues to lead the sector in sustainability which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the values and aspirations of the Yarra community,"  she said.

Australia's unemployment rate decreased in November 2012

Australia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point to 5.2 per cent in November, as announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The ABS reported the number of people employed increased by 13,900 to 11,546,400 in November.

The increase in employment was driven by increased part-time employment, up 18,100 people to 3,414,200 and was offset by decreased full-time employment, down 4,200 people to 8,132,200.  The increase in employment was driven by increased female part-time employment.

The number of people unemployed decreased by 16,300 people to 637,400 in November, the ABS reported.

The ABS reported a seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate decrease of 0.1 percentage point to 65.1 per cent in November.

The seasonally adjusted underemployment rate was 7.2 per cent in November 2012. Combined with the unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent, the latest estimate of total seasonally adjusted labour force underutilisation was 12.5 per cent in November.

More details are in the November 2012 issue of Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0), as well as the upcoming November 2012 issues of Labour Force, Australia, Detailed (cat. no. 6291.0.55.001) and Labour Force, Australia, Quarterly (cat. no. 6291.0.55.003), which are both due for release next week on December 13.

These publications are available for free download from the ABS website.

ALGA News can be read online each week at www.alga.asn.au/news.aspx
Editor: newscomments@alga.asn.au Tel: 02 6122 9434.
Australian Local Government Association - 8 Geils Court, Deakin, ACT, 2600.
Copyright © 2001 Australian Local Government Association. ISSN 1447-980X
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