This is my final contribution to ALGA News as your President with my four-year term expiring today. I’ll miss it, and you. But as I look back there is so much to celebrate and to look forward to.
Firstly, it has been an honour and a privilege to be the lead advocate for the local government sector these past four years. I have met so many of you and been inspired by your stories of survival and achievement, and have shared those with our Federal counterparts to win them over on many fronts!
From gains in our core funding to winning significant increases in roads, bridges, blackspots, telecommunications, and community infrastructure funding, we have been very successful these last four years.
The hard fight to end the Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) indexation freeze in July 2017 may have been forgotten, but its legacy – a renewed appreciation of this funding by the Commonwealth and their recognition of the great partnerships we provide – has been profound.
The Morrison Government not only left FAGs untouched during the recent budget challenges but has reached out to every council across the nation to enlist their help in delivering billions of dollars of projects through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure (LRCI) Program and other initiatives to boost jobs, enhance road safety and build or repair infrastructure for the future.
The realisation that we are reliable and trustworthy partners for the Commonwealth has also provided a solid foundation for significant advances across many portfolios.
Mark Coulton is now firmly embedded in the federal Local Government role and proving to be a reliable and productive ally for local government.
His understanding of our sector comes from his first-hand experience as Mayor of the Gwydir Shire Council – and he works exceptionally well with Deputy Prime Minister (and Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack, and we can thank both for the brilliant LRCI program.
My role has been to advocate for local government interests across many policy-development areas – from road safety and freight infrastructure, to housing, planning, environment, indigenous affairs, Closing the Gap, emergency services, arts and culture, food regulation, waste and recycling, and others – and we have been winning on many fronts.
My participation in these forums, discussions and meetings has afforded me great insight into the workings of the nation’s peak decision making bodies – providing stories best told over a quiet one!
Despite the challenges – including settling in no less than five Federal ministers in four years – I have been able to advance local government’s reputation, gain significantly improved road safety funding, funding for improved recycling, and play a role in increasing female participation in the sector.
These have all been passions of mine throughout my two terms and they will continue to remain so.
If asked to name a low point in my presidency, the demise of COAG and the rise of National Cabinet without ALGA being invited to sit at the new table would top the list.
We asserted, and will steadfastly continue to do so, that this was a denial of the fundamental right of local communities to be regularly heard at the highest level of government.
The high points – policy advances, funding boosts in roads, bridges, blackspots, broader road safety, telecommunications, apprenticeships, leadership training, recycling processing, direct drought and flood funding and the recent $1.5 billion Local Roads and Community Infrastructure fund – have more than outweighed the COAG setback, however, in terms of actual outcomes that improve the lives of local people.
You should all be very proud of the role your council has played in our success. In councils demonstrating professional and productive partnerships with the Commonwealth, it has reinforced the pitch I have consistently delivered in Canberra on the sector’s behalf, namely that “you can rely on local government to get the job done”.
Through it all, the current and previous Boards have had my back. I cannot express enough my appreciation of their solid and unwavering support, and their aspirations for a brighter future.
My admiration and appreciation of the work that the ALGA secretariat does at the national level, with relatively few resources compared to those we are asked to respond to, is beyond measure.
It would be remiss of me not to mention our CEO, Adrian Beresford-Wylie. With his deep corporate knowledge, wisdom, and experience, he has been a rock of support and inspiration to me and ALGA, and I thank him.
If 2020 was the year in which a blowtorch was applied to local government – think bushfires, Covid, revenue cuts and intense scrutiny – we are emerging not only unbowed but with renewed energy, purpose and enthusiasm.
The public’s trust in local government is at new levels, there is a growing realisation that the Commonwealth and states should be investing in local infrastructure projects (not just so-called megaprojects), and a belief that our fabulous regions represent as-yet-untapped potential.
We can be optimistic about the future and our central role in building prosperous, inclusive, and resilient local communities. I remain, as always, ready to serve in that cause.
In the interim, congratulations and welcome to Cr Linda Scott, who will be endorsed as ALGA’s new President at the AGM this afternoon. Linda will bring a wealth of knowledge, media experience and inherent goodwill to the position and I’m confident you will be very impressed with her leadership throughout her term of Presidency.
As always, keep up the great work!