President’s column – 27 September 2019

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

There have been many issues affecting regional and rural Australia on which ALGA has been advocating in recent months – jobs, visas and drought assistance.

Some three quarters of Australia’s local governments are in rural, remote or regional areas of Australia, with many local governments actively trying to attract and retain workers and residents in their communities.

Regional Migration

In our submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, which is inquiring into migration in regional Australia., we pointed to a 2019 National General Assembly resolution that called on the Commonwealth to develop a long-term plan for investment in regional cities.

We paraphrased Horsham Rural City‘s original motion which said the plan was “a key to maintaining the liveability of the regions they support, attract business investment, and to provide high-quality health, education, recreation and cultural facilities.”

We also told the committee that international migrants provide stability to regional communities by offsetting population decline and the departure of young adults, as well as being essential to meeting work force shortages.

“Some regional areas are already experiencing population growth and overseas-born residents are a significant, and in some cases, the only contributor to that growth.  Regional migration can be a win-win,” we said.

We updated the committee about our Local Government Workforce and Future Skills Report.

Among the study’s findings were that the local government workforce was considerably older than the Australian all-industry workforce, had a declining participation level of workers under 30 years of age, and lacks enough apprentices for future needs.

ALGA has also been advocating on councils’ behalf in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into a new Skilled Regional Visas bill.

The legislation created two provisional skilled regional visas and amends Acts to provide that holders of these provisional skilled regional visas will have the same access to welfare payments and government services as permanent visa holders where eligible.

ALGA supports the bill on the basis that the amendments will ensure adequate support to visa holders and thus take potential pressure off councils which often have to fill service gaps when these services are not otherwise available to members of the community.

This is particularly the case in thin markets or with vulnerable members of the community.

ALGA also supports the bill on the basis that it will encourage visa holders to move to and remain in regional Australia, which will boost the economic and social fabric of these communities.

Drought lobbying

We have advocated in several ways for local communities dealing with the worst drought on record.

We convened an urgent meeting of local council representatives during our National General Assembly of Local Government in June. Delegates from dozens of councils gathered to share their communities’ first-hand experiences of the drought.

We then conveyed their concerns to Minister for Drought, David Littleproud, and we have been in regular contact with his office and the Department of Agriculture.

We’ve reminded the Commonwealth that its drought assistance is needed for all communities lacking water, not just drought affected farmers.

We have highlighted the importance of the Drought Community Program Funding for local stimulus and have called for more funding for the 94 local government areas in the 2018 funding round and for drought affected local government areas which have currently not received any funds through this program.

We have been advocating that the eligibility criteria should be relaxed and that we need funds on the ground as a matter of urgency.

We have been emphasising that the impacts are beyond the ability of a council to manage alone, particularly where town water supplies are running dry.

These impacts have long term implications for the environmental, economic and social wellbeing of communities across the country.

We are therefore delighted to hear the Prime Minister will visit drought affected communities upon his return from the USA today.

We welcome the promise of more funding as a continuation of our strong partnership with the Australian Government to work with Local Government to pull through these challenging times.

David O’Loughlin

ALGA President.