As well as identifying areas of strategic priority for our work, ALGA’s 2020-23 Strategic Plan also highlights other areas where ALGA will advocate to the Australian Government and facilitate collaboration between state and territory associations.
These areas include:
- Population, Planning and Building;
- Overcoming indigenous disadvantage;
- Arts and Cultural Development; and
ALGA also remains committed to Constitutional recognition of Local Government. However, we acknowledge that the priority of the Government and the Opposition in recent times has been the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. The proponents of Indigenous recognition want that issue progressed in a stand-alone referendum. When certain important prerequisites are met, ALGA will again advocate strongly for Constitutional recognition of Local Government.
POPULATION, PLANNING AND BUILDING
Across the country our communities are impacted in different ways by their demographic composition and variabilities in population growth and decline. Population growth and decline in local communities is the result of natural increase (births) or decline (deaths) and migration within states, between states and from international sources.
The ability of local government areas to retain and attract population depends to a great degree on quality of life and liveability. Liveability, in turn, depends on economic, social, cultural, geographic, and environmental issues. Therefore, our ability to manage changes in population requires a strategic partnership between all three levels of government, and close collaboration and alignment with industry and the community.
Local government plays a pivotal role in land use planning and development approval systems in all states. In the ACT and NT, planning and development approval is undertaken by the territory governments.
Every jurisdiction in Australia has differing planning legislation which is prepared and administered by the respective state/territory government. The roles and responsibilities of local government are outlined in this legislation as well as any state or regional policies that need to be adopted by local government.
Local governments develop strategic plans with their communities to guide the future development of their municipalities and support the delivery of local and regional economic, environmental, and social outcomes. Strategic plans also coordinate the provision of, and investment in, critical infrastructure to ensure more efficient and effective development. Councils also use their strategic plans to guide the application of development controls on a day-to-day basis.
The strategic level of planning determines and articulates the future development strategy for a local government area, such as population projections, required housing densities, future growth areas, requirements for employment hubs, and environmental protection areas. Strategic plans must integrate with state government requirements and are endorsed by the state government. To develop and monitor strategic plans, local government needs a sound understanding of the social, economic, technological, and environmental opportunities and challenges affecting its area and surrounding region. Close engagement with the community and other stakeholders is essential.
It is the development assessment component of the planning system that is subject to the greatest scrutiny and criticism, even though most development applications across Australia are increasingly approved efficiently and effectively by local governments. The role of local government in planning decision-making has also narrowed in scope – with more exempt and complying development and more intervention through planning panels, Ministerial call-ins, and other mechanisms.
Regardless, local government remains the primary decision-maker for those wishing to develop land, and therefore provides an essential service to the community. With this highly visible role, local governments are often held responsible for the performance of all parts of the system, much of which are not in their control, for example approvals required by the state government or directions by the state government.
The Australian Government has no constitutional power, and has traditionally played no formal role, in land use and development planning. Despite this, many policy and investment decisions by the Australian Government shape city and regional growth such as major transport infrastructure projects. In addition, over the past few years the Australian Government has identified land use and development planning as a means of contributing to the achievement of government priorities, including sound infrastructure investment, population and urban growth management, managing congestion, housing affordability and economic growth. Recent initiatives by the Australian Government have included City Deals which link funding agreements with improved economic or housing outcomes.
Local government planning processes are not a significant factor impacting on housing affordability. Research has disproved claims that local government processes are impeding land supply and impacting housing affordability. In addition, local governments choose to deliver better housing outcomes for their communities over and above the policy and legislative requirements.
Local governments also administer their local building approval and construction processes in accordance with state government legislation and policies, and in most jurisdictions private building certifiers are a component of this system.
ALGA’s objective is to support and strengthen the role of local government in population management, land use planning and building.
OVERCOMING INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE
There is a life expectancy gap of 10 years between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research reveals that between one-third and one-half of the health gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are associated with differences in socio-economic factors such as education, employment, and income.
The unemployment rate for Indigenous people is 4.2 times higher than for non-Indigenous people. Thirty-five percent of Indigenous households reported living in a dwelling with 1 or more major structural problems in 2012-13, and 15 percent reported living in a dwelling that was lacking working facilities.
In remote Indigenous communities, water and sewerage infrastructure provision has not kept pace with population growth. As a result, new housing and other new buildings in some jurisdictions cannot be connected to services due to a lack of capacity. There are now seven communities in the Northern Territory that are at capacity and others that are closely following. More needs to be done for Indigenous people to enjoy health and life-expectancy equality and employment and education parity in Australia.
Housing has been included as a priority target area in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The target of increasing the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88 per cent by 2031 will not be achieved without adequate funding and all levels of government working together.
ALGA believes that the provision of appropriate municipal services and infrastructure in indigenous communities is a joint responsibility between all levels of government. ALGA is working to promote improved coordination and engagement with local government, particularly Indigenous local government councils, to improve the delivery of all government services and infrastructure to Indigenous communities.
A number of councils across Australia are responsible for the provision of municipal services to Indigenous communities. These are in addition to those services that are the responsibility of the state/territory or Australian governments. However, these councils do not have access to resources, including own-source rate revenue, to provide these services and infrastructure. The Commonwealth’s decision to end its role in funding and national coordination of essential services has had real and significant impacts.
It is important going forward that the voices of Indigenous councils and elected officials are heard loud and clear and that their knowledge and experiences underpin the development of effective policy and advocacy. Similarly, it is important that local governments are actively engaged in the development of the policy associated with the Local and Regional Voice and in implementation of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
ARTS AND CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
Local government plays a critical role in supporting Australian arts and culture.
Arts, culture, and the creative industries are increasingly valued by local governments as an economic driver of tourism, regional economies, the night-time economy, and social cohesion. In 2017 local government investment in culture and heritage was $1.5 billion, or over 27 percent of the total national investment by all governments.
Local governments support and finance local museums, galleries, libraries, performing arts centres, festivals, touring companies, and individual local artists.
Local governments in Australia recognise the fundamental importance of community arts, cultural development, creative industries, and heritage to local communities. Councils also recognise the important role of cultural development in helping to achieve other social, economic, environmental and governance objectives. A vibrant local arts scene increases participation in planning and decision-making within municipalities, promotes civic satisfaction, and helps retain populations where drift to cities is a tendency.
Local government investment in arts and culture brings richness and meaning to individuals’ lives and strengthens communities by:
- Building community cohesion, wellbeing and resilience;
- Creating attractive places to live, work and visit;
- Highlighting creative talent, natural assets, and unique cultures; and
- Strengthening economic development and job creation.
The Australian Local Government Association is calling for recognition and continued support of the pivotal role local government plays in the development and delivery of the arts and culture essential to the liveability and economic sustainability of all communities.
Tourism underpins the local economy in many towns, regions and cities throughout Australia, playing a pivotal role in creating jobs and economic growth. Specialised, niche tourism such as business events, nature-based activities, cultural and Indigenous events, and agritourism are vital to tourism growth.
In 2015-16 local government contributed an estimated $373 million to the operation of visitor information centres, events, festivals, promotions, marketing, and general tourism development.
Tourist or visitor expectations can never be entirely satisfied by an individual product or service. Rather, it is the sum of all the amenities and experiences within a destination that give rise to successful tourism. National policies often focus on stimulating international interest without recognising the visitor experience at the local level. Local governments, therefore, play a pivotal role in optimising tourism’s potential.
Councils engage in tourism in many ways, including:
- As tourism owner-operators, for example of caravan parks and camping areas;
- As owners and managers of visitor information centres;
- As creators and funders of destination marketing campaigns;
- By delivering local events, sporting, arts and cultural activities;
- By assessing and monitoring tourism and accommodation proposals;
- Through investment in vital local infrastructure and its maintenance to support tourism, such as parks, public spaces and amenities, rubbish collection, local roads and signage; and
- By consulting and engaging with local communities, businesses, community representatives on future tourism development.
Local government’s significant role in tourism development and services is frequently overlooked at the national level in terms of policy development, research priorities or funding support. There is a lack of a comprehensive and coherent position on domestic tourism at the national level, a lack of clarity around the role of each level of government, and an unstructured approach to federal funding to local government for tourism.
For these reasons, the Australian Local Government Association is calling for the development of a national approach to tourism policy and funding which recognises local government’s role in the delivery and investment in local and regional tourism infrastructure and services.
On 9 May 2013, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her Government’s intention to proceed with a referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution. The referendum was set to be held on the same day as the Federal election on September 14, 2013 and would ask Australians to cast a vote on the “financial” recognition of local government through the amendment of Section 96 of the Constitution. If passed, the amendment would enable the Commonwealth to provide direct funding to local government for vital community services and infrastructure, something governments from both sides of politics have been doing for more than a decade.
Following a leadership spill on 26 June 2013, Ms Gillard was replaced as Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd. The announcement of an early election by Prime Minister Rudd on 4 August 2013 ended the possibility of a referendum in 2013.
ALGA’s motivation in seeking financial recognition was to remove uncertainty created by two High Court challenges (the Pape and Williams cases) that cast doubt on the Commonwealth’s ability to fund local government directly. This uncertainty remains and has not diminished. On 8 August 2013, Mr Ron Williams initiated a second challenge in the High Court which goes to the validity of the Federal Financial Frameworks Act 2012. This Act was part of the Commonwealth Government’s response to the High Court’s decision on Mr Williams’s first case to provide legislative backing for hundreds of Commonwealth spending programs which were placed in constitutional uncertainty by the High Court’s decision. A further challenge could build on the High Court’s decisions in the two previous cases and on the limits of the Commonwealth’s executive powers.
The only way to resolve the uncertainty surrounding this funding is through a referendum. Adequate resourcing of local councils to meet the needs of their communities is in everyone’s interest. ALGA will continue to seek opportunities and advocate for appropriate legal certainty of direct Commonwealth payments to local government.