Improving population planning and management was the hot topic at Wednesday’s COAG meeting of First Ministers, which I attended as local government’s representative. It seems everyone has an opinion on population, and that would be reasonable given its far reaching consequences – be it pressures on infill, or fringe areas of the city being developed and farmland being consumed, or even the development of fringe suburbs without the proximity of jobs.
Not to be overlooked are also the contrasting challenges facing our regional towns and cities which don’t have the pressures of infill but have all the infrastructure there – the road, health and sporting infrastructure – but their populations are declining and they are in desperate need of more people.
We welcome this national discussion around population levels but any outcome must reinforce greater coordination between the three levels of government in more effectively managing the necessary investment in infrastructure.
COAG took a positive step in the right direction by agreeing to establish a Treasurer’s Forum that will consider a framework for national population and planning to address population management in Australia. I’m very pleased that ALGA will be a member of this forum to ensure that our sector has the opportunity to participate in this important debate and that our views are fully integrated in this work from the get go. ALGA will work closely with your state/territory associations to capture population plans at a local and/or regional level and provide input on what’s happening on the ground across our diverse communities.
Other key issues discussed at COAG were in relation to early childhood education and care, and Closing the Gap.
The commitment across all jurisdictions to early childhood education and care, via agreement to the Early Learning Reform Principles, was welcome. However, they must also back and honour this commitment by providing certainty around funding. Councils in regional areas in particular continue to be left vulnerable without this certainty because often they are the only provider of childhood education, care and preschool, with the private sector inactive in many regional cities and towns.
Closing the Gap is also an important issue for many councils. There are councils that are entirely comprised of Indigenous residents and others that represent majority Indigenous communities. These councils will be very interested in the commitment to consultation in this latest COAG communique. However, there remains an important need for the Commonwealth to reach agreements on the remaining National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing as housing persists as a major obstacle to closing the gap.
There were many more issues discussed at the meeting, including increasing our resilience to drought and reducing violence against women and their children, which I can’t fit in to this column but the communique provides a broad overview of the outcomes.
Finally, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Please, stay safe on the roads during your holiday travels; I’ll see you in 2019 in what is certain to be an eventful year in Federal politics.
Mayor David O’Loughlin