LG finances and capacity at full stretch, federal inquiry told

Local Government’s “remarkable capacity to deliver in times of disaster and other events” has been stretched by drought, flood, fire and Covid-19, Federal Parliament heard this week.

Major-General Andrew Hocking, the deputy coordinator of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, told the Parliamentary Inquiry into Regional Australia that “in terms of manpower in local councils, horsepower … and finances, local government is stretched”.

“That is one of the reasons we granted money to some significantly affected local government areas and councils early to spend how they saw fit, to try and address that; but, equally, it’s stretched in some places with just individual capacity and skill sets.”

Examining the effectiveness of existing regional service delivery and development programs is one of the key terms of reference for the inquiry established on 25 July 2019.

“Local governments and communities have very different needs and they have very different capacities wherever you go,” Major-General Hocking said.

“We need to ensure that we can set policy and mechanisms, including recovery mechanisms, that account for that.

“Not having a one-size-fits-all solution from the federal level down to the local level is a key lesson for us to learn, as is the principle of ‘how do levels of government and different sectors enable local governments and communities to have their own agency and their own ability to effect their own recovery?’

“That’s probably the first lesson.

“Regarding the second lesson as it relates to communities, [they] have really struggled to navigate their way through the generosity of this country.

“The various measures from various levels of government and offerings from the philanthropic sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the for-profit sector in many ways have been double-edged.

“Particularly for communities under stress and councils under stress, the act of navigating through that is difficult. We have learnt that doing it all electronically is not necessarily the best option.”.

Asked about the agency’s desire to have a ground-up approach and local voices in the recovery, Major-General Hocking said tourism “is a critical route to recovery, and local input into how  tourism initiatives are developed and executed is absolutely key.

“We expect that there will be many things that local communities will determine they would like to invest in that will make them a more attractive proposition either as a town or as a region.

“Potentially, they will partner up with other towns and regions in this endeavour, and we encourage that.”