President’s Column – 26 July 2019

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

Communities across Australia are either currently facing drought, tentatively recovering from it, or have been affected by it in the past.

With climate change we are advised to expect more frequent and harsher droughts.

Consequently the passing of the Future Drought Fund legislation through Parliament was important for local governments.

The fund will be for “drought resilience, preparedness and response” and is overseen by a “Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee”.

Minister for Water Resources and Drought, David Littleproud, told the House of Representatives that the fund starts with an initial $3.9 billion, which the Federal Government will invest.

“The government intends to grow the fund until it reaches $5 billion, while at the same time drawing down $100 million per year from 1 July 2020 to build drought resilience across Australia,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Once established, the Future Drought Fund will provide a new secure, predictable revenue stream to build drought resilience across Australia.”

I hope that the scope of what the Federal Government deems “drought resilience” includes more than just farmers.

As valid as their claims for help are, they aren’t they only ones hurting in drought-affected communities.

Yes, many communities across Australia are on water restrictions, or need water trucked in, but the consequences of drought are broader than a lack of water.

For example, doesn’t a mechanic in a drought-hit town also deserve support because a farmer can’t afford to take their farm machinery to town to get serviced? And what about the local gift shop, hairdresser, cafe, furniture and clothing shops?

When I meet Federal Ministers including Minister Littleproud, on your behalf next week, I’ll also stress that our local communities need assistance to broaden their economic base.

If a farming community is buttressed by, for instance, tourism or education or health or mining businesses, they stand a much better chance of being able to withstand the ongoing drought than if their main economic source is farming.

That’s why ALGA has long advocated the importance of local community infrastructure projects which can build things that make a place more liveable.

That includes not just water infrastructure projects, but upgrades to community sporting facilities, the local pool, library, community hall, jetty, or safe boat access to a beach or riverbank. These are the things that make a work-place a great place to live and raise a family.

Local Government can’t fund these vital community infrastructure projects alone. That’s why we have been advocating for a funding partnership – if not through the new drought fund then via a dedicated Community Infrastructure Fund.

After all, we are the level of government that’s closest to the community, and can get money and jobs moving faster on the ground than the other two levels.

Local Governments are also acting on their communities’ wishes and leading the fight against climate change. They’re reducing their emissions and taking steps to mitigate future natural disasters.

I’ll be emphasising this to the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley in our meeting on Wednesday.

I’ll also update her about the waste management and recycling challenges local councils are facing, and offer some suggestions on how the Federal Government can provide national leadership to meet those challenges, and create new jobs right here in Australia.

I’m also meeting the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge. I’ll be eager to learn the latest about cities deals which he announced before the May election, and other matters affecting our cities such as population projections, planning impacts, and comparative lack of funding opportunities for metro communities.

On your behalf, I’ll convey to him that Local Government has a proven track record in working effectively as trusted partners with the Australian Government, jointly delivering over 60,000 projects for our communities since 2001 – and we stand ready to deliver many more.

I look forward to conveying your concerns and aspirations in the meetings, and updating you on the results.

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President