Our first formal one-on-one meeting with a Prime Minister in seven years was the highlight of last Friday's COAG meeting. On behalf of local government, I advocated for an end to the Financial Assistance Grant indexation freeze and a return to previous funding levels, with an emphasis on the impact on regional and remote communities. I also assured the PM that the sector has a very successful track record in delivering nearly 60,000 projects in partnership with the Commonwealth over the past 15 years, with minimum fuss, and invited the PM to consider how we might partner more on road and community infrastructure projects to our mutual benefit.
COAG’s focus on competition- and productivity-enhancing reforms included a recognition of the importance of infrastructure investment, especially in roads. This is entirely consistent with ALGA’s priorities for investment in a freight strategy and a permanent doubling of Roads to Recovery (R2R) funding. I raised these priorities with the Prime Minister as well as in the post-COAG press conference. There may be a real opportunity for us in this space and I urge you to ensure your R2R program data and your proposals for first- and last-mile investment are up to date.
On the domestic violence issue, COAG noted the importance of encouraging employers to provide appropriate workplace support for employees experiencing family violence. It was a useful opportunity to reiterate the points made by ALGA in the October COAG Domestic Violence Summit that councils such as Surf Coast Council in Victoria have led the way in domestic violence leave and that the local government sector has done a lot of work to improve gender equality at the elected level and on the ground in practical terms.
Finally, Indigenous Affairs is a real concern for COAG and this gives ALGA, and state associations, a chance to look at some of the practical things councils are doing or could be doing on the ground to improve outcomes on Closing the Gap issues and Indigenous economic development in areas such as Indigenous public sector employment and support for Indigenous businesses through targeted procurement strategies and infrastructure projects. The ALGA Board will take this up for discussion at its next Strategic Planning Meeting in February, informed by advice from associations on the current state-of-play and any relevant policies at the state association (or council) level.
The COAG agenda is interesting and complex and I look forward to working with first Ministers on the key challenges facing the nation. The public communique for the COAG meeting is available at this address https://www.coag.gov.au/meeting-outcomes/coag-meeting-communiqu%C3%A9-9-december-2016.
And in news just to hand, I express my extreme disappointment with the loss of Cr Coral Ross from the ALGA Board due to her council's failure to support her nomination to the MAV Board (Find out more here). Coral's role as the President of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, in addition to her MAV duties, was very much appreciated by the ALGA Board and I thank her for all she was able to achieve with us.
As this is the final ALGA News edition for 2016, I would like to wish you all the very best for a happy holiday season and a successful new year. I would also like to take this opportunity to urge everyone on our roads to be extra vigilant and stay safe this holiday period.
Mayor David O’Loughlin