President’s Column: 10 May 2019

Image shows President David O'Loughlin smiling in front of a black background

The 2019 Federal Election is eight days away, and whilst so far it’s been a lacklustre campaign for local government, to date Labor’s policies are marginally ahead of the Coalition’s, except for local councils fortunate to be in marginal electorates where the results are more mixed.

However neither of the major parties have met all 12 initiatives of our All Politics Is Local federal election campaign.

Fundamentally, there remains a huge disparity between local councils carrying 33% of the nation’s infrastructure burden, including a $30 billion backlog, and only receiving 3.6 percent of the nation’s tax revenue. Commonwealth funding to local government has fallen to only 0.55% of their tax revenue, providing less than 10% of our sector’s overall operating costs and directly impacting on the sustainability of many of our regional and remote communities.

For me the biggest let down of the campaign so far is that both major parties have failed to restore the Financial Assistance Grants to 1 percent of Commonwealth revenue from its current 0.55 percent.

While Australia’s tax coffers keep filling at an increasing rate, the proportion flowing to local communities has not, and according to their current promises, will not increase.

The campaign thus far has benefited local councils in marginal seats – such as those with airports needing security upgrades – and while that’s good for those residents, it results in inequity for communities in safer seats.

ALGA has campaigned for measures that will assist local communities more generally, such our initiatives on promoting equitable access to a community infrastructure program or addressing homelessness and affordable housing, but so far there’s been very little announced, save for Labor’s modest housing announcements and controversial negative gearing changes.

Also largely ignored are funds for a climate change partnership, community health services or new smart cities initiatives.

Yes, there have been some welcome movements on the Coalition’s budget to increase Roads to Recovery, Blackspots and the Bridges Renewal Program, but these are not permanent. We expect a Labor government would honour those pledges, but they fall far short of what’s needed and what we asked for.

This past week, National Road Safety Week, we’ve noted how more than two-thirds of the Australian road toll is from rural roads. That means driving on a local road makes motorists more 1.5 times more likely to be seriously injured than if they were on a state road.

The funding commitments thus far ignore a recent national road safety enquiry which calls for $3 billion a year to be spent purely on road safety improvements, not just on new highways, intersections or freight improvements. We’ve heard nothing from the major parties about seriously tacking this major road safety expenditure deficit.

Although the major parties have ignored many of our 12 election initiatives, I’m putting Labor incrementally ahead because of its housing and environmental policies.

Labor has outlined its plans for a circular economy – initiative 10 on our list – which is a major challenge for communities that need to deal with rising waste and recycling stockpiles. The Coalition wants to see manufacturers become more energy-efficient, not necessarily more waste efficient, and has proposed reallocating $100m from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – funds that could assist companies wanting to set up renewable energy projects in local communities, for example.

ALGA would rather see money or effort to remove inappropriate materials from the waste stream and improving recycling. It appears Labor will put as much as $290m into that, and want to adopt a national leadership role in waste and resource recovery, a position the entire sector has been calling for. That sends a welcome signal to local government.

Lastly, I also think that Labor is just ahead with its higher levels of support for Indigenous housing and well-being initiatives, early childhood education spending, and its plans for climate change action – the latter an issue for most Australian communities, particularly coastal and riverine councils.

There’s still a week to go, time in which I hope both major parties answer more of our calls and make clear their plans for local communities and their local governments.

In the interim, make sure you use every opportunity to pitch your partnership proposals to candidates at the local level.

All the very best for your local campaigns.

Mayor David O’Loughlin
ALGA President