President’s Column: 17 May 2019

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

This week ALGA welcomed the Australian Labor Party’s commitments under the Plan for Local Government issued by the Opposition in response to our Federal Election priorities document, All Politics is Local, which we issued last September.

Our document identified 12 priorities including restoring funding assistance to local government, improving the safety of local roads, national leadership on waste and recycling, initiatives to address climate change, as well as a greater commitment to Indigenous well-being.

In its Plan, the ALP has matched the Government’s funding commitments to Roads to Recovery, Bridges Renewal community infrastructure, regional telecommunications and Financial Assistance Grants, but has gone further in its commitment to provide $260m for a National Bike Path Strategy.

The infrastructure commitments by the ALP will reassure councils that the increases in base level funding for essential programs such as Roads to Recovery and Bridges Renewal announced in the Budget will be met, which provides certainty for councils’ budgeting processes.

ALGA also welcomes the commitment to strengthen Australia’s circular economy by establishing a National Waste Commission and investing $60m in a national recycling fund.

Waste and recycling has emerged as a major challenge facing all councils, and the ALP commitment to greater national leadership is something the local government sector and communities have been crying out for.

ALGA is also pleased by the ALP’s promise of $62m for climate adaption and coastal rehabilitation. We have called for a program to support communities with their climate change responses.

Another positive is the ALP’s funding commitment to help to address housing and employment issues in Indigenous communities.

ALGA has called for both parties to continue providing funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

Although neither the Coalition nor Labor have fully committed to that need, the ALP has gone further than the Coalition by providing funding for the NT, Queensland, WA, and South Australia.

I also note that Labor’s plan recognises the financial sustainability challenges local governments have faced for more than two decades.

Since 1996 the level of funding assistance provided to local government by the Commonwealth government through the Financial Assistance Grants has fallen to just 0.55% of Commonwealth Taxation revenue from 1%.

At the same time, local governments have been subject to cost-shifting and rate-capping by state governments.

Labor has committed to working with local, state and territory government with the aim of reaching an agreement on the financial sustainability of local government.

While both major parties have yet to respond to ALGA’s call to provide a fairer level of funding to local communities through the restoration of Financial Assistance Grants funding, the ALP’s commitment to seek an agreement across the three levels of government to address local governments’ financial sustainability is progress.

We’ve sought comment from the Government to Labor’s plan, but have not been able to confirm if the Coalition will be making a similar policy statement on local government. This is unfortunate.

We’ve invited the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to our National General Assembly next month in Canberra, and will continue to press them to give local governments are fairer share of funding to unlock the potential of our communities.

Our Fairer Share campaign will also ramp up as the incoming government takes office, and we’ll be asking our member associations to urge their local Members of Parliament and Senators to act so our local communities can thrive.

Finally, congratulations to whomever wins the election tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the new government to address together the many challenges our local communities face.

Mayor David O’Loughlin
ALGA President