President’s column – 23 October 2020

Image shows President David O'Loughlin smiling in front of a black background

With even Tasmania and Queensland border controls easing, infection numbers falling, bushfire recovery underway, and drought still with us but in fewer places, it’s time to turn our minds to creating a brighter future.

Talk has begun about how we can make Australia a better place post-Covid – it is an important conversation and a key focus of ALGA’s Special Local Roads and Transport Congress in Wagga Wagga next month.

Resilience will also be a major part of the expanded two-day event, with discussion and deep-dives on the impacts that drought, bushfires, and Covid-19 have had on councils and their communities – and how they pulled through.

Major-General Andrew (Hocks) Hocking, Patty Kinnersly, Michael McCormack, and Karl Sullivan are among the distinguished speakers who will fill add critical detail of what has been in many respects an annus horribilis for local government.

Many councils have been left in a precarious financial position because of it, as we are now discovering.

On the plus side, local government’s willingness to step up and go the extra mile to help ratepayers and local businesses through the worst of the financial downturn, to watch over vulnerable community members – and to deliver economic stimulus packages on top of those by state and federal governments – has won it plenty of admirers, including the respect of Local Government Ministers nationwide.

That thinking was reflected in this month’s Federal Budget, with an additional $1 billion earmarked for the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure (LRCI) program, more Building Better Regions funding, and an extra $2 billion for road safety initiatives, an apprenticeships program, more funds for telecommunications blackspots, a regional leadership program and much more among other measures.

We are delighted therefore that some of Australia’s most knowledgeable infrastructure experts, among them Warren Sharpe (president of IPWEA NSW) will be at Wagga to enlighten delegates about what has occurred, what lessons local government can absorb from events, and how we can “build back better” for a more secure future.

In parallel, ALGA’s has been telling every Minister and senior official we can find that smaller infrastructure projects deliver better bang for the buck, and more local jobs per dollar invested than mega-projects – and we are cutting through.

Indeed, financial commentators are suggesting the historical underspend on maintaining and enhancing local roads and community infrastructure is a major challenge that needs to be addressed, not least because it is holding back freight productivity, tourism and road safety improvements.

That said, several of those same commentators have highlighted problems posed by a lack of data and inadequate reporting on infrastructure asset condition, particularly at the local government level.

This again underlines why it is so important that councils get behind ALGA’s National State of the Assets projects, now in the process of gathering data for a new report that will be delivered at next year’s Local Roads and Transport Congress.

Responses to our invitation to contribute have been encouraging thus far – but we would like to see more activity on the data collection platform from rural, regional, and remote-area councils, particularly those in WA and Queensland.

But back to Wagga Wagga – where the focus will not be entirely on roads, regions and resilience.

Our Watch will be launching its family violence Prevention toolkit for local government, communications guru Neryl East will be discussing how councils can sharpen their PR in times of crisis, and keynote speaker Dr Richard Harris will recount his role in the miraculous 2018 rescue of 12 boys trapped in  flooded cave in Thailand.

Local Government Minister Mark Coulton will also be announcing the 2020 National Award for Local Government from an outstanding field of contestants and his special Ministers’ Award for Progressive Community Leadership.

Our conference venue will have strict Covid-19 health measures in place so delegates can be assured of a safe as well as a rewarding experience – and there is the option to attend virtually for those unable to travel from WA or Victoria.

I hope to see you there!

David O’Loughlin,
ALGA President