This week we held our annual Regional Cooperation and Development Forum (RCDF) and National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) in Canberra and both events delivered rich and inspiring content that challenged the sector with innovative ideas. We focused on the direct link between our work in local government and the productivity of our nation, highlighting the importance of innovation, adoption to change, technology and collaboration to help shape the future of our councils and communities.
ALGA launched the 18th State of the Regions report on Sunday at the Regional Forum, which once again provided the most authoritative evidence of regional inequality. The report showed statistically the facts that local government feels on the ground, that there is considerable unevenness of economic growth across the country which needs to be addressed.
The Government flagged in the 2016-17 Federal Budget that it would release a Regional Development Policy in 2017. The continuing and concerning trends in this year's State of the Regions report make it essential that the Government provides more information and clarity on how it proposes to undertake this policy development work and their vision for our regions. It is also imperative that the Opposition also spells out its plans for Australia's regions. On Sunday, I called for this clarity and this is an issue ALGA will pursue if it is not addressed prior to the election on 2nd of July.
We were pleased that the Hon Paul Fletcher MP and the Hon Julie Collins MP, key political players in our sector and whose portfolios feature local government, were able to address the NGA and, in doing so, make some important announcements for local government.
Minister Fletcher announced the Coalition's proposed $50 million Smart Cities Program for local government initiatives which apply innovative, technology-based approaches in the areas of planning, infrastructure and service provision. This program is set to encourage councils to partner with communities, local businesses, not-for-profits and research institutes to create service improvements and cutting-edge technology solutions to urban problems.
Ms Collins provided commitment to local government delegates at the NGA that if elected Labor will reintroduce the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) from July 2017. Obtaining this explicit commitment is important for the sector and ALGA has called for such a commitment from all parties following the three-year FAGs indexation freeze introduced in the 2014-15 Federal Budget. Ms Collins also announced the Opposition's commitment to reestablish the Australian Council of Local Government, create a Regional Innovation Fund and invest funding to encourage the active participation of women in local government.
We welcome these announcements which acknowledge local government's incredible commitment to serving our communities and the importance of a local-Federal government partnership to support and strengthen our communities. ALGA looks forward to further engagement on these initiatives with the successful party after the July 2 election.
Mayor Troy Pickard