President’s column

PRIME MINISTER Malcolm Turnbull’s ministerial reshuffle this week has ensured that 2017 ends not with a whimper but a bang loud enough to be heard throughout the Local Government sector.

A new Minister for Infrastructure and Transport (Barnaby Joyce), a new Minster for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government (John McVeigh) –and the departure of the respected Darren Chester – is huge news by any definition.

Remarkably enough, former Minister Chester had been looking after for all these key portfolios in recent months, although some in an acting capacity after having assumed Fiona Nash’s ministerial responsibilities in October.

I take this opportunity to publicly thank him for the strength of his support for Local Government, his deep commitment to road safety, and the breadth of his understanding of the importance of the regions and our extensive road networks.

Combined with Fiona Nash‘s resignation from the Senate only a few months ago, Darren Chester‘s demotion means we have lost two very competent and supportive ministers this year.

However, Local Government must view every new appointment as a new opportunity to restate its policy and advocacy aims.

I will be doing just that when, hopefully, I meet with Minister McVeigh in the New Year to discuss the Coalition’s policies concerning Local Government and the aspirations we have for our wonderful communities.

This year has been a remarkably productive one for our sector, capped by the restoration of indexation for Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) in July and the announcement of supplementary road funding for South Australia.

The freeze on FAGS indexation in 2014 cost local communities more than $600 million worth of services and infrastructure over three years, and it was restored largely as a result of resourceful and strong lobbying by councils and associations around Australia.

Well worth celebrating, too, was the Commonwealth’s response to a 2015  Productivity Commission Report recommending a major restructure on natural disaster funding arrangements. 

After talking with Local Government and the states and territories, the federal government unveiled new funding arrangements in July.

These recognised what has long been evident to councils in disaster-prone areas: that a proper balance has to be struck between recovery and mitigation, and that essential public infrastructure must be made more resilient for the long term.

The success of our campaigning on these two fronts should inspire us to redouble our efforts in 2018, particularly regarding key priorities such as restoring the quantum of FAGs to at least one percent of Commonwealth taxation revenue and securing extra funding to enable councils to address first mile/last mile freight bottleneck issues.

For now though, it’s nearing the end of the year, and it’s time to celebrate and enjoy the Christmas and New Year season. On behalf of the ALGA team may I  wish all of you and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Safe driving,

David O'Loughlin,