It has been said that Regional Australia is the engine room of Australia's economy, but are we doing enough to support the important role of our regions in Australia's economic growth?
At the beginning of the year, the Australian Senate referred an inquiry into the indicators, and impact, of regional inequality in Australia to the Senate Economics References Committee for inquiry and report. ALGA was joined by state/territory local government associations as well as numerous councils in providing submissions to this inquiry highlighting the challenges and disadvantages experienced in this country's non-metropolitan areas.
ALGA's submission is now publicly available at this link: https://alga.com.au/?ID=16426&Menu=47,647
The growing inequality in Australian regions is becoming acute and the challenge needs Commonwealth leadership. We need an agreed national long-term strategy and bipartisan commitment to funding for our regions; the additional pressures on our regions' public pockets must be addressed.
ALGA's call to restore a more sustainable approach to federal funding for local government must be heard and taken on board by our federal counterparts. At an aggregate level, local government undertakes its work while being more than 80% self-funded; however, many rural and regional councils are not in a position to raise the same revenues as their urban and larger regional counterparts. Access to Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) plays a critical role in the financial sustainability of every council but particularly rural and regional ones.
The 2018-19 State of the Regions report launched just last week supports this view and continues to make the case for greater Commonwealth and state interest in regional economies, including a willingness to direct investment funds to regional development. The report tells us that sustained innovation will be the core driver of long-term economic growth and our regions need the right support to attract, retain and grow their knowledge economies to help them link into the prosperity of their larger counterparts.
Regions are of vital importance to the growth of the Australian economy and the growing problem of inequality must be dealt with so that regional and rural councils can act in the best interests of their residents and equalise the availability of services and infrastructure across the community. ALGA will continue to call for the Federal Government to restore core funding of FAGs to 1% of Commonwealth Taxation revenue, as well as additional funding for partnership programs where agreed.