This week, I spoke to delegates at the Western Australian Local Government Association Annual General Meeting and the Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) Campaign Steering Committee held its monthly teleconference. On both occasions, the impact of the freeze to FAGs indexation and what councils could do to support our national campaign to restore indexation as soon as possible was raised.
The indexation of FAGs is currently frozen at 2014 levels with Federal plans for it to remain so for another year, bringing the freeze to a total of three years. This means that the grant payments are not keeping up with local government cost increases and going forward local government's share of national taxation will have decreased even further by the end of the freeze in 2017-18.
The FAGs are local government's main revenue stream from the Federal Government so it's important for every council in Australia to make representations to their Federal representatives, and particularly Coalition representatives, to explain the impact of the decision to freeze indexation.
We have also asked councils to pass a resolution acknowledging the importance of FAGs and identify FAGs as a Commonwealth grant in public reports. As of 4 August, 215 out of 564 councils nationally have passed the resolution.
These simple actions are important because they build support for FAGs in the Federal Government and help Federal representatives to continue to make the case for local projects and funding. We should not underestimate the long term threat to the FAGs, nor should we underestimate the need for our campaign – and how successful it can be.
The decision to freeze FAGs indexation was unexpected and highlighted the power of the Treasurer over this program. It also highlighted to ALGA that local government needs to make sure the Government understands the pain this decision caused. We need to be on the front foot to make sure there is not a repeat or extension of the freeze – a very real possibility if we are seen to be quiet, compliant and complacent about the funding. This is why it is important to get every council's buy in to this campaign.
By presenting a unified voice as local government, we have raised the profile of the decision to freeze the indexation of FAGs funding, but there is more work to be done to advance the campaign.
Mayor Troy Pickard