In my President’s Column this week, I would like to address an important issue that is facing our sector and that is likely to play out over the coming months.
With the Federal 2017-18 Budget to be handed down in May, and no cast-iron guarantee that the Government will reintroduce indexation to Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs), it is important for our sector to come together now to lock in the Government’s support and commitment to restoring the indexation as signalled in the last Federal Budget.
The FAGs payments to local government from the Commonwealth are important to every council across the country. FAGs can be spent on whatever the community needs and so are a vital part of councils' revenue base, allowing them to provide and maintain our local community infrastructure such as local roads, swimming pools and libraries. For many smaller rural and remote councils, FAGs form the majority of their revenue and it is these councils that are likely to have been hit hardest by the FAGs indexation freeze.
The freeze to the indexation of FAGs applies to every council with the impact varying between councils and communities. Some councils have reported that in the past three years of the freeze, they’ve had to re-evaluate what services and infrastructure they can continue to provide to adjust to the reduced revenue levels, with other councils forced to cut services in areas such as childcare, bike paths, road works, landfill and reduce operating hours for libraries and public pools.
ALGA will continue to advocate to the highest levels for the restoration of FAGs indexation in the May Budget, but we will also need your help to strengthen our national advocacy efforts. If your council has examples of how the freeze to FAGs has affected your community, please send them through to the ALGA News editor on email@example.com. These stories go a long way in raising the Federal Government's awareness of the real impact of their decision to freeze FAGs indexation and will assist ALGA to make a powerful case to the Commonwealth.
You can also help by writing to your local Federal member(s) to reinforce the importance of FAGs, the impact the freeze has already had on your community and what services may need to be cut if the freeze continues.
Our councils rely on FAGs and our communities rely on us to make the best case for support for community services and infrastructure. All of us need to do what we can to ensure that the Government keeps its commitment to restore the indexation to FAGs from 1 July this year.
Mayor David O’Loughlin