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Strong local government advocacy behind Commonwealth’s latest drought funding

Advocacy by ALGA and state and territory local government associations has led to the Commonwealth’s expanded drought assistance, which includes support for child care centres that councils called for at the National General Assembly of Local Government.

The Commonwealth on 7 November announced a package which included widening the Drought Communities Extension Programme by six councils to 128 – totaling $128 million and – plus a $50 million fund for council infrastructure projects.

Some of these councils are receiving a second round of funding, as many have already spent the funds allocated earlier.

ALGA and its member state and territory local government associations in drought affected jurisdictions have made numerous representations to Deputy Prime Minister McCormack, Treasurer Frydenberg, Drought Minister Littleproud, and Local Government Minister Coulton, emphasising that councils and communities need support, not just farmers.

“We’re really pleased by today’s announcement because this much needed money will make a real difference to communities hurting amid the relentless drought,” ALGA Acting President, Cr Linda Scott, said.

“Councils have identified a range of projects that can be rolled out rapidly to support their communities, including farmers and farm-dependent businesses. Wherever possible, these projects have multiple benefits including jobs, infrastructure upgrades and community wellbeing.

“In addition to building resilience, these projects also create local jobs, not just for farmers but also other types of local workers who’ve been unable to find employment due to the drought.”

The Commonwealth added Greater Hume, Hilltops, Lockhart and Upper Lachlan (all in NSW) and South Australia’s Tatiara and Kangaroo Island to the list of 122 eligible councils that received $1m each in September 2019.

Those 128 councils can also apply for $138.9 million in Roads to Recovery Funding in calendar year 2020.

There’s also $5 million from the Community Child Care Fund for centres which have lost income because families can’t families can’t afford fees, and $10m for drought-affected schools.

The National General Assembly in June passed Forbes Shire Council’s motion which called on the Minister for Education to provide additional ‘Drought Relief Payments’ to regionally based child care centres, mobile pre-schools and Preschools to pass onto families as free pre-school places and attendance for -5-year-olds.

The ALGA Board noted the resolution and wrote to Education Minister Dan Tehan MP and Minister for Water Resources and Drought, David Littleproud MP.

Mr Tehan replied to ALGA in October, and on 7 November said the Commonwealth would provide $15 million to ensure childcare centres and schools could stay open amid the drought.

Climate Change

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth also yesterday released a report by former Drought Co-ordinator General Major General Stephen Day, which was dated April 2019, and the government’s response.

“As a consequence of climate change, drought is likely to be more regular, longer in duration, and broader in area”, Major General Day’s report said, adding some areas of Australia could become “more marginal and unproductive.”

His recommendations include a pilot community resilience program for a not-for-profit organisation to work with local governments and communities to help their ability to “adapt and cope with chronic stresses and acute shocks”.

That pilot project should be evaluated, with the findings informing consideration of a national program, the Major General added.

The Commonwealth noted that recommendation and said it was “partially implemented through two programs” – the Drought Communities Program and project grants via the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

President’s Column – 19 July 2019

Local councils are at the forefront of community efforts to tackle Australia’s worsening housing affordability and homelessness challenges.

While people sleeping rough on the street in our capital cities is of course a problem, our communities in rural, regional and remote Australia are also responding to housing challenges including lack of affordable housing, or overcrowding.

Councils engage in many ways in housing depending on the issues and priorities in their communities. For example, by using excess council land or buildings for housing, collaborating with local community service providers, hosting local housing forums, or providing information about homelessness services, and helping meet housing needs through council-owned caravan parks.

Many councils also deliver or engage with homelessness services, among them:

• City of Salisbury (SA) – Assistance with Care and Housing Project which aims to support those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to access appropriate and sustainable housing.
• City of Fremantle (WA) – Solutions based approach to interactions between front line staff and people who are homeless.
• Parramatta City Council, Liverpool City Council and North Sydney Council (NSW) – All have developed Homelessness Strategies, Policies or Action Plans.

Cairns Regional Council has a guide on tropical building design which seeks to minimise housing energy costs. Many councils promote the development of low cost “tiny homes”, that can be either wheeled or permanently fixed on a plot of land. Mitchell Shire on Melbourne’s northern fringes is supporting the Transition Village Wallan project where 10 off-grid tiny homes will be built for homeless people.

At ALGA’s 2019 Regional Cooperation and Development Forum and National General Assembly, researchers involved in the ARC Linkage Project on Local Government and Housing in Australia for the 21st Century explained what local councils outside the capital cities are doing to meet their local challenges.

According to Emeritus Professor John Martin of La Trobe University, Gwydir Shire Council (NSW) works in a range of housing areas, such as owning and renting out six houses, is a guarantor for mortgages through the Regional Australia Bank, has an infill strategy that encourages ‘granny flats’, and collects rent on state-owned public housing which it uses to maintain the properties.

As University of South Australia Business School’s Professor Andrew Beer told the NGA, local governments are providing many local housing services, such as ensuring a supply of land, engaging with other tiers of government, coordinating social services, and developing and implementing planning schemes.

Professor Beer said senior levels of government often don’t understand the important role local governments can play in housing, and sometimes local councils have been blamed for policy settings not of their making.

Councils are often unfairly criticised for lack of land availability even when they are constrained by financial resources and legislative requirements. Land availability is a complex issue not simply addressed by rezoning for residential purposes.

Rezoned land also requires appropriate local and state level infrastructure and services to ensure not just a supply of housing, but the creation of liveable communities.

Professor Beer also noted that while local governments are doing good work in the housing sector, there’s a sense of reluctance among some to share that good news because of fears of further cost-shifting by more other tiers of government.

I can understand that reluctance.

Twelve councils from across regional, metropolitan and regional Australia, and the Local Government Association of SA are partners in the Local Government and Housing research project. I encourage you to visit the site for project updates, as the project is due to finish by the end of 2019.

I look forward to learning more about the various ways local government is stepping up to addressing housing needs in our communities, and sharing them with you.

David O’Loughlin

ALGA President.