President’s column – 27 November 2020

In two weeks’ time, it will be my honour to represent you at the first-ever meeting of the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC).

The NFRC was set up, if you recall, after intergovernmental reforms triggered by the scrapping of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – of which ALGA was a foundation member.

ALGA was not included in the expanded National Cabinet, a decision I am committed to reversing, not least because all our governments need to be working closely together to support job growth and enable economic recovery.

However, ALGA is a member of the NFRC, together with National Cabinet and the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) comprising state, territory, and federal Treasurers.

The NFRC’s focus will be on priority national issues, and the first meeting is expected to consider domestic violence, Closing the Gap, and veterans’ wellbeing.

If your council has examples of local government work to reduce domestic violence, improve veterans’ wellbeing, or to progress Closing the Gap, please share them with ALGA so I can try to share your wonderful work at the NFRC.

Similarly, if there’s advocacy you would like represented on these issues, please get in touch!

Thanks to Griffith and Leeton Local Governments, whose views I shared in the Australian/New Zealand Forum on Food Regulation this week on your behalf.

The more you engage with ALGA, the more we can represent your views on the issues that matter to you!

Armed with examples of your great work, I am confident of being able to apprise the Prime Minister and Premiers of the fantastic work local government is doing on the ground, and how councils can bolster national efforts to reduce Indigenous disadvantage, support our returned service people,  and lower domestic violence rates.

Thank you to those of you who have raised motions to past ALGA Conferences – these policies will guide all my advocacy on your behalf.

Congratulations to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane City Councils, who this week won an important victory for local government’s ability to plan for its communities.

The three councils successfully appealed a March Federal Court decision that Telstra payphones with large digital screens are “low-impact facilities” if the screens were used only to promote the company’s standard telephone service.

It was always patently obvious to councils in cities where Telstra first began installing the new payphone cabinets in 2018 that it was using the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018 as a stalking horse for commercial advertising.

And not only that, using the LIFD to circumvent important urban design objectives such as visual amenity and safe, attractive streetscapes.

These structures are big – 2.64m tall, 1.09m wide – and fitted with 75-inch LCD screens. Tellingly, the screens face away from phone users.

That Telstra partnered with outdoor media advertising company JCDecaux to install these outsized cabinets says it all, really.

ALGA actively supports the provision of modern and efficient telecommunications services – and it has campaigned strongly for these to be delivered equitably to all Australians regardless of where they live.

But our advocacy has always come with the caveat that the supporting infrastructure is rolled out with proper regard for council planning laws supporting structural integrity, safety, and good urban design.

We also champion the community’s right to be consulted about new infrastructure so that its potential impacts can be better understood.

Local government’s lead role in land-use planning and delivering liveable communities is constantly at risk of being undermined by commercial self-interest— and Telstra’s payphone stratagem was a prime example of that.

We’re proud to see ALGA’s policies upheld in this important victory for local government.

Linda Scott,
ALGA President