President’s column

Although the weather in Canberra this week was typically crisp, the National General Assembly of Local Government and Sunday’s Regional Cooperation and Development Forum delivered hot topics, passionate politics, great networking and even a surprise choir, of sorts, for the nearly 1000 combined delegates.

The new 2018-19 State of the Regions report forecast that innovation will be the core driver of our long-term economic growth. Interestingly, the report found that our innovators (or “knowledge workers”) tend to congregate in metropolitan capitals and inner cities where there is a wide variety of cultural and lifestyle choices.

The report implies that if regional cities and towns want to attract these types of workers and the new industries they create, then more focus is required on the variety of cultural, lifestyle and recreation experiences that more flexible business owners like to use. Cafe strips and boutique shopping, main Street vibrancy and variety are key to attracting and keeping ‘knowledge workers’. Further infrastructure support, particularly telecommunications, transport, community and cultural infrastructure, remain fundamental but it is surprising how much the softer side of community life remains important.

Virginia Hausegger challenged our sector to do better to address gender inequality in local government and break through the 30% barrier, Bernard Salt showed us what small towns must have for their communities to thrive, and Mayor David Cull from the Local Government Association of New Zealand shared with delegates the lessons our councils can learn from New Zealand’s disaster experiences.

With an election in the wings – many are predicting a September election – both the Government and Opposition took the opportunity to outline their policies for our communities as well as their plans on how they would partner with local government to implement these policies on-the-ground. We were honoured to hear from the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, at the conference dinner on Tuesday night, where he flagged interest in exploring a regional city deals model.

Opposition Leader, the Hon Bill Shorten MP spoke earlier in the day, delivering a passionate speech centred on developing a deeper, direct partnership with local government. Both presentations mean we are well-placed to advance our election priorities advocacy in the lead up to the next federal election.

When the time does come and an election is called, our sector must be ready, and thanks to the hard work of the ALGA Board and Secretariat, as well as your state and territory associations, we will be. I took the opportunity on Wednesday morning to talk about the sector’s range of national election priorities that I and ALGA will advocate for in the upcoming federal election.

Our overarching and core campaign issue will be our call for 1% plus partnership programs. Over time our financial sustainability has been seriously eroded and it is time we stood up for our communities and corrected it. We will urge the Federal Government to restore our core base funding, Financial Assistance Grants, to 1% of Commonwealth taxation revenue and add funding for partnership programs where agreed.

The role that your council will play – indeed must play – with your local Federal election candidates will be imperative if we are to be successful in our advocacy this coming election. You will be hearing from ALGA and your state/territory association in the coming months about this important national advocacy campaign for our sector and for your communities.

And, lastly but certainly not least, my congratulations to Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council, which deservedly won the National Awards for Excellence in Local Government for its innovative Emergency Management Network and Community Forum.

Congratulations also to all of the category winners and entrants into this year’s National Awards for Local Government – absolutely amazing projects and outcomes, well done to all.

Mayor David O’Loughlin

  ALGA President