President’s column – 2 October 2020

Great news! The Federal Government has ticked a lot of ALGA’s calls for partnership funding this week, building on the well-received $500 million stimulus fund already rolling out around the nation’s councils.

More specifically, our calls for targeted road funding to eliminate more safety and freight productivity black spots, to replace or upgrade substandard bridges, to improve regional communications networks, and to help to increase training and development within the sector have been heard.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s recent funding announcements are exactly what ALGA has been calling for on your behalf and, whilst not eradicating our $30 billion infrastructure backlog, every extra dollar brings us a step closer to our 1 percent FAGs goal which is critical to us restoring our long-term financial sustainability.

However, to put these announcements in context, these programs appear to be short term, stimulus-driven, and not the long-term solutions our communities need.

In addition, none of the program announcements are exclusively for local governments; some address freight bottlenecks on state and territory roads, and regional comms and leadership funds are more broadly contestable.

So, my recommendation is for local councils to get their skates on and make sure they apply for everything they are eligible for. In fact, they should go further and partner with local businesses and community organisations to extract every opportunity available to their communities.

Why? Because this is exactly what the Government wants us to do. It is a stimulus program and therefore must be deployed to gain full effect.

When Covid-19 sent us into national lockdown in March, ALGA called for fast, targeted short-term stimulus with long-term benefits – directed through councils, and here it is.

We reiterated local government’s proven track record in delivering – together with the states and the Commonwealth – significant programs such as Roads to Recovery, Bridges Renewal, Road Safety Blackspots and drought and bushfire relief initiatives.

We said that financing shovel-ready projects in local government areas would help ward off recession by stimulating businesses and create jobs, delivering long-term benefits to the nation in the process.

Building on the $500 million Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program announced by the Commonwealth in May, recent announcements will inject $250 million into regional Australia through a $50 million Regional Tourism Recovery initiative, and a new $200 million round of the Building Better Regions Fund.

Minister McCormack’s announcements add nearly $400 million to efforts to boost regional jobs, road safety, freight productivity, communication networks, and skills development.

Local governments and their communities will also have a big role in NBN Co’s plans to invest $4.5 billion on extending fibre-direct connections to homes and businesses.

That’s because NBN Co is creating a $300 million fund to co-invest with governments and local councils as part of its plans to improve broadband services in the bush and beyond.

In addition, NBN Co is allocating $50 million over three years to work with local councils and state and territory governments to identify opportunities to extend business-grade services outside its new “Business Fibre Zones”.

It is worth noting also that the Commonwealth is pledging an additional $30 million in funding (through the Regional Connectivity Program) to ensure communities outside NBN Co’s fibre footprint are not left behind.

This sizable investment in connectivity has been triggered by the massive (and successful) switch to working from home during Covid-19 – proof positive that every cloud has a silver lining.

Next week’s Federal Budget will formalise these announcements and herald an exciting new era in local government in our regions – one I am sure mayors, councillors and non-elected staff will eagerly embrace.

Stand by for the Morrison-McCormack Government to deliver Australia’s first Ministerial Statement on Rural and Regional Budget Outcomes, which will be updated annually in recognition of the importance of the regions in enabling national economic recovery.

Your ALGA has worked hard to lay the groundwork for these programs and to advocate strongly to channel available funds through local governments to maximise value and benefits to local communities. The Commonwealth knows we deliver, and we do it more cost-effectively, transparently, and faster than other levels of government.

It’s now up to local councils, including yours, to get on with it.

It’s great news for councils in the lead-up to what will be a challenging Federal Budget announcement next Tuesday.

David O’Loughlin,
ALGA President