This week, on your behalf, I was in Canberra for more meetings with Commonwealth Ministers about drought relief, grants, population and settlement, recycling and disaster mitigation.
I thanked Mark Coulton, the Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, for the Commonwealth’s earlier round of drought relief, which local councils welcomed, and stressed the need for a new round of support for councils suffering a further failed season this year.
I reinforced with the Minister Coulton, the need for flexibility in the range of projects councils may promote if a new round of funding was announced, noting that while infrastructure investment was a key area, many councils simply don’t have the water to build roads.
I was heartened by my discussions with the Minister who comes from one of the most severely affected areas of New South wales, is clearly aware of the plight of regional communities in the bush, and has great admiration for how councils have engaged with and employed locals in investing drought funds received to date.
I also expressed our appreciation that the Minister will address our National Local Roads and Transport Congress next month in Hahndorf and encouraged him to use the opportunity to make further announcements. [Incidentally, we’ve extended our early bird rate until 1 November, so register and join us].
I then met with Housing Minister Michael Sukkar for a highly productive discussion about the challenges in the housing market and the integral role that Local Government plays in the housing supply chain as an assessor and approver.
I also noted that Local Government wasn’t necessarily responsible for large-scale rezoning for residential land which drives the volume of supply in most jurisdictions.
We discussed opportunities for Local Government to participate in a whole-of-government conversation on housing affordability, land supply, the intersection and impact of three levels of government property taxes, and to discuss how rezoning, regulation, taxes and market forces impact on affordability.
I stressed that any conversation on housing and planning that doesn’t include Local Government is likely to be far less successful than it otherwise could be.
Recycling is a challenge facing all of our communities and I had a productive conversation with Trevor Evans, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, around the upcoming Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM), which ALGA attends.
Our aspirations for reforming the waste and recycling discussion into one which focuses on building a strong repurposing and remanufacturing economy aligns very closely with the Commonwealth’s aspirations.
I look forward to a successful MEM to put flesh on the bones of an otherwise sparse national waste policy.
I discussed the diverse picture of population and settlement among councils around the country when I met David Coleman, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs.
I noted that many councils are happy to welcome new arrivals, particularly regional councils looking for help to fill job vacancies and perform skilled roles, whilst other councils have a more tempered approach where they are happy to consider more people only if is it properly planned and catered for in terms of services and transport infrastructure capacity.
I was also able to thank Sen. Murray Watt, the Shadow Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, for the Opposition’s intervention last week where it voted with the Government on the condition they increase the Commonwealth’s proposed Emergency Response Fund from $150 million to $200 million a year – with the additional $50m funding pool solely available for disaster mitigation projects.
While this is short of the $200m in mitigation funding which ALGA had proposed and which is support by the Productivity Commission, it is an excellent start.
The recurrent nature of the money is very important and provides an opportunity to establish the effectiveness of mitigation funding, in order to justify its expansion in future years.
This was a great win for local government and will help councils faced with coastal and riverine inundation threats, higher intensity storm events, bushfires and other natural disasters where damage would be minimised if we had already invested in higher levee banks, stronger bridges and roads and wider fire breaks.
And I spoke to many at Parliament House about what great partners we would make if the economy needing stimulating.
Partnering with 537 councils to improve our infrastructure would spread the employment and monetary injection benefits across the nation at the local level – just where the economy needs it.
If it happens, I’m confident you’ll make sure your council is ready.