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|Editions > 2005 > December||Wednesday May 22, 2013 - Melbourne Time: 03:23:02|
Federal issues becoming less woolly
The Good Oil by Rod Brown*
About five years ago I wrote in this column that all three Federal parties were like kittens playing with a ball of wool – with Local Government representing the ball of wool. Things are changing. While one shouldn’t read too much into politicians’ speeches at last month’s Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly, phrases like the winds of change were bandied about.
The protest rally got some national TV coverage too, as did the annual State of Regions benchmarking report. Overlaying this is the ALGA machinery headed by President, Paul Bell, who is a pretty astute operator.
On the downside, the apathy of local Councils as well as State Government lassitude will hamper progress towards greater recognition of Local Government. By apathy I mean there were barely 100 people to hear Jenny Macklin’s address, and she could be the next Deputy PM!
Anyway, I got talking to ACT Minister for Urban Services, John Hargreaves, at the General Assembly and we shared our thoughts on how Local Government might increase its influence.
Since I am not privy to the machinations of ALGA politics, I simply offer some options as an interested observer.
Option 1 – Constitutional reform
There is much talk about a resolution by both houses of Federal Parliament to formally recognise Local Government. This will be reinforced by an Intergovernmental Agreement that specifies enhanced roles for Local Government.
However, the Howard government is not proposing Constitutional Recognition. This would require a referendum to change the Constitution. John Hargreaves says having the third sphere of government recognised in the Constitution is a mountain worth climbing, but will take generations to achieve. He cautioned that it needs the agreement of the majority of people (who are generally apathetic about governance) and then a majority of voters in at least four (a majority) of the States. History shows how few referenda proposals have met these stringent requirements. Bipartisan support is the key or the people will reject it.
Option 2 - HypothecationThe hypothecation of significant funding for Local Government, including built in escalation and CPI clauses, is a realistic option. Local Government has to aim for something substantial, and this surely is. Otherwise, we are resigned to having Federal Ministers bouncing in every year to announce extra road funding.
Option 3 – Hypothecation – with a stiffener
Hargreaves says that candidates in marginal Federal electorates should be asked to advocate strenuously for a formularised hypothecation of a portion of GST revenues for Local Government. This strategy could be deployed in the run up to the next Federal election, and Councils could then campaign to unseat candidates not in favour of hypothecation. He figures that with a fair and reasonable percentage of the GST cake, Councils wouldn’t be as dependent on State largesse.
This is ballsy and legitimate stuff, but it is debatable whether 20 Federal MPs espousing hypothecation would be able to swing a change in the Party Room.
Option 4 – Trials
The option I favour is to get the Feds (and perhaps some States) to agree to a trial program involving the devolution of certain programs and powers (and funds) to a limited number of Councils in each state. Criteria concerning the ability and preparedness of Councils to deliver the programs would have to be agreed. Practical initiatives like this allows the parties can learn as they go. It also challenges politicians to match the rhetoric about the winds of change.
Supporting all of these options is the growing worldwide trend towards devolution. In other words, let the tier of government closest to the problem into decision making processes. I must sound like a broken record, but the Howard Government, and those that follow it, are wide open to claims about pork barreling unless they devolve some expenditure. The recent enquiry into the Regional Partnerships Program has not properly addressed it.
Garry Weaven, Chair of Industry Fund Services (owned by nine super funds), stated at the ALGA National General Assembly that it has just closed its Regional Infrastructure Fund due to lack of deals. In its three year history it had only funded three projects!
He said that governments must:
This is serious food for thought. An alliance of companies is developing a mechanism called Australian Regional Investment Attraction (ARIA) to progress very similar initiatives. Contact me for details.
As the year draws to a close, we have just finalised a compilation of 40 short articles and essays about dealing with government, industry policy, innovation, urban and regional development, investment and capacity building, collaboration, social development and so forth. Some are articles previously highlighted in this column.
The document is for attendees at the ‘Making Canberra Work For You’ 2006 national workshop series. If you’d like an email version for free, contact us ASAP. Have a great Christmas break.
* Rod Brown’s Canberra based consultancy group, Australian Project Developments Pty Ltd, specialises in industry/regional development and government liaison. For further information telephone (02) 6231 7261 or email email@example.com
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