Roads, regions, resilience: ALGA’s Local Roads and Transport Congress headed to Wagga Wagga

Australia’s premier local roads conference being held in Wagga Wagga NSW this week has been expanded to address 2020’s biggest events – the Black Summer bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The profound impacts these two disasters have had on local communities will be a major focus of the expanded two-day event being convened by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).

How Australia can be made a more resilient and inclusive society post-Covid will also be canvassed at the Wagga Special Local Roads and Transport Congress.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack will detail the Federal Government’s Covid-19 measures and its plans to enable rural and regional communities to build back better, while the National Bushfire Recovery Agency’s Major-General Andrew (Hocks) will provide advice on how local communities have responded to the most damaging fire in living memory.

Dr Richard Harris, whose heroic role in the Thailand Cave rescue of 2018 was recognised with the Australian of the Year Award, will deliverer a keynote address.

Some of Australia’s most knowledgeable local infrastructure experts, including Warren Sharpe (president of the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (NSW), will be at Wagga to enlighten delegates about what lessons local government can learn from disasters, and how resilience can be embedded within communities to reduce future risks.

Patty Kinnersly, chief executive of the not-for-profit Our Watch organisation, will launch the family violence Prevention Toolkit for Local Government, and Federal Local Government Minister Mark Coulton will announce the 2020 National Award for Local Government as well as his special Ministers’ Award for Progressive Community Leadership.

ALGA’s newly elected President, Councillor Linda Scott, said local governments were continuing to go the extra mile on behalf of their communities – even though many are now in a precarious financial position because of the twin natural disasters.

“We have supported communities and local businesses through the worst of the financial downturn – partnering with the federal, state and territory governments to deliver significant support and stimulus measures,” Cr Scott said.

Councils have responded to the initiatives contained in last month’s Federal Budget, including an additional $1 billion for the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure (LRCI) program, more Building Better Regions funding, an apprenticeships program, and more funds for telecommunications blackspots, by rolling out shovel-ready projects that will deliver immediate as well as long-term benefits.

“Councils are heavily invested in creating a brighter, more sustainable future for their communities – and this Congress will enable them to deliver that,” Cr Scott said.

Wagga Wagga Mayor Greg Conkey OAM said he looked forward to the Congress.

“This is the largest rural and regional centre in NSW, and we’ll be able to showcase the city to a wider audience.”

He said the annual Congress enabled local councils to share information and knowledge – and provided a means for them to lobby state and federal governments concerning the importance of local roads.

“We control 80 percent of local roads in Australia, and it is vitally important that we get sufficient funding to maintain and improve that road system,” he said.

The Congress is being held at the Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University, with online access for those people who are unable to travel to the NSW Riverina because of Covid-19 restrictions.