It was an honour to represent you at today’s inaugural National Federation Reform Council, a meeting of the Prime Minister, Premiers, Chief Ministers and the Treasurers, in Old Parliament House in Canberra.
Formed when COAG was abolished, the Council will meet annually to discuss issues of national significance. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister and a range of Premiers speak so highly of the partnerships local governments have had with Federal, State and Territory governments throughout the year.
Congratulations to you all – the national recognition is well deserved.
All of you, whether elected mayors and councillors, managers or support staff should be proud of your efforts to improve the wellbeing of your local communities and the liveability of your towns, cities, and regions.
I placed on record our repeated calls for a place on National Cabinet and will continue to advocate on your behalf for a seat at the table for matters where local government has an interest.
While the initial decision to limit National Cabinet membership to jurisdictions with key health responsibilities was perhaps understandable in the context of suppressing coronavirus, a National Cabinet refocused on job creation and economic growth priorities needs all three levels of government to succeed.
However, I do appreciate the acknowledgement from today’s National Federation Reform Council for a larger role for the Federal Government’s engagement with local government on the national priorities of addressing mental health, emergency management, domestic violence, indigenous affairs and veterans’ wellbeing.
The combined effects of 2020’s natural disasters have weighed heavily on council finances, but we stand ready to do more too – particularly if a fairer, more sustainable local government funding model can be devised.
I took the opportunity today to highlight the importance of federal and state funding for local government
The more we can commit to improving employment, and as a result Federal and State Government income, the more local governments are able to advocate for an increase in our own funding.
That’s why I have asked ALGA to ensure that next year’s annual National General Assembly of Local Government, due to be attended by up to 1000 delegates from councils across the country, has a specific focus on how councils are supporting community recovery, including though measures to increase economic growth and job creation, and that we look to showcase leading practice among councils in these areas.
Local Government has the opportunity to work more closely in a coordinated way with both the Commonwealth and the States and Territories under the new intergovernmental architecture.
The Year In Review
As we look back on 2020, ALGA’s biggest win was maintaining the quantum of Financial Assistance Grants.
With declines in Commonwealth taxation revenue, population growth and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) there was a significant risk this payment would decline significantly. Recognising the important role that local governments will play in recovery, the Commonwealth maintained FAGs funding.
Further recognising our essential role in supporting local communities, employment, and businesses and, cumulatively, national economic recovery, the Federal Government created the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program into which it has now invested $1.5 billion.
Many of the priority issues that ALGA has been advocating over many years were addressed in the October Federal Budget.
The regions, for example, were the beneficiaries of a range of new policy announcements, including $100 million to fund Regional Recovery Partnerships, and a $550 million investment in the Stronger Rural Health Strategy to give doctors more opportunities to train and practice in rural and remote areas.
There was $200 million in additional funding to extend the successful Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) for a fifth round, including $100 million available across regional Australia for community priorities; and $100 million dedicated for tourism-related infrastructure.
ALGA’s unceasing efforts to influence national policy development are bearing fruit: the Federal Government has announced major reforms to national natural disaster arrangements (in response to the bushfires royal commission) and the Commonwealth Recycling and Waste Reduction Act is about to be enacted.
I hope Christmas and the New Year provides you with a welcome opportunity to enjoy time with family and friends and recharge your batteries – simple pleasures that so many of us have been denied in this eventful year.
I also hope you have a chance to reflect on the fact that although 2020 may have rocked local government’s foundations it has also created opportunities we can profitably explore and capitalise on in the New Year.
See you in 2021!