President’s column

THERE WAS a clear and compelling theme that emerged from the 2017 Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) conference I attended in Valetta, Malta last week, and that was the importance of self-reliance and initiative.   

Councils across the Commonwealth strive to meet the needs and aspirations of their communities competently and efficiently. They do it individually, collectively and in partnership with state and national-level governments as well as private enterprise. 

However, competence at the Local Government level is no guarantee of success in meeting complex and emerging governance issues, or dealing with supranational climate or development goals.

As CLGF patron and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said in her keynote address: “Local government needs to nurture all those partnerships because it can’t succeed on its own”.

Ms Clarke was talking specifically about the need for Local Government to be proactive in meeting the United Nation‘s 17 sustainable development goals. However, her sentiments could be equally applied to the tasks of building stronger local economies, of leveraging new digital technologies, and of putting Local Government on the strongest possible financial footing.

These issues were extensively canvassed at the conference, particularly the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a tool to help councils target investments, improve services and respond to community needs.

I gave a presentation at the conference on this topic, demonstrating how Australian councils have already embraced digital technology innovation and data analysis to drive efficiencies and improve governance, and highlighting recent submissions to be funded under the new the Smart Cities and Suburbs program.

There was also significant discussion around exploring financial innovations to support sustainable development and Local Government independence – another key conference concern.

Australian Local Government is in the fortunate position of being relatively unfettered in how it raises and spends its revenues.  Nevertheless, we should consider the Conference Outcome identifying public-private partnerships, municipals bonds, sub-national pool financing, land-value capture and other options as potentially worthwhile infrastructure and revenue-generation measures in addition to those we already access across the sector.

Valetta also saw the launch of the CLFG’s Commonwealth Network of Women in Local Government, an initiative aimed at improving gender representation equity across the Commonwealth Local Government sector, and building staff and elected leadership capacity.

Whilst most LGAs and many Australian councils talk about gender equity as an aspiration, national progress is not uniform or consistent. The first women elected to any level of government in Australia was Susan Grace Benny, in SA, in 1919. Nearly 100 years later, nationwide, female representation is still only around 30 percent.

It underlines why councils need to be thinking all the time about how to better engage with our communities, particularly those who are under-represented at the decision-making table, such as women, younger people and people from non-Anglo Saxon backgrounds.

Ms Clark also reminded us in her keynote speech that “Local Government is an indispensable partner in sustainable development – indispensable to central governments wanting good national results, and indispensable to citizens and local stakeholders".  

We know that. It’s up to us as a sector to demonstrate our indispensability by  being resourceful, energetic and proactive.

You can read Helen Clark‘s speech to the GLGF conference at her website.

It was terrific to hear a highly regarded former national leader speak so confidently about the importance of Local Government.

David O'Loughlin,