Pushing the agenda
"The range of speakers from both sides of politics, the business sector and community demonstrates the breadth of talent we are now able to attract to the General Assembly," said President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), Councillor Paul Bell. "This is recognition of the important role Local Governments play in the lives of all Australians."
Meeting in Canberra from 27-30 November, delegates representing Councils from around the nation considered a number of resolutions that will set the reform agenda for Local Government over the next 12 months.
"We will build on the momentum we have generated over the past year," Councillor Bell said. He said that the historic signing of the first ever Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) by the three spheres of government has ensured that the other spheres cannot add to Local Government responsibilities without first dealing with who will pay.
"The fair treatment, fair funding and formal recognition campaign will continue in 2007," Paul Bell said. "But with formal recognition, we cannot afford to fail for the third time. We need full community and bipartisan support before we can go to a referendum again on Constitutional recognition."
He told delegates that the pursuit of fair funding presents major challenges ahead. "It is clear Local Government is facing a financial crisis particularly in funding for community infrastructure renewal," Councillor Bell said. "This is undermining Councils' ability to continue delivering for our communities."
"The PricewaterhouseCoopers review, looking at the national financial sustainability of Local Governments, has been set by ALGA to help us clearly document our case. The National Economics State of the Regions report shows there is a significant shortfall in Local Government funds."
He said with Local Government having no access to a growth tax and with grants funding ruled by CPI, which does not accurately reflect true cost increases, Councils are going backwards.
"An additional $1 billion is required to bring Local Government back to 1994 levels," Councillor Bell said.
"With between ten and 30 per cent of Councils facing sustainability challenges, we will be putting our position clearly and carefully to all Parties in the lead up to the 2007 election. We will need bipartisan support for the reform of Local Government funding and it is encouraging to see all Parties putting Local Government on the political agenda. 2007 is the year we will be pushing this agenda forward, so how Local Government represents its case to the public and other spheres of government is vital. All I ask of all of you is the means to get the job done by lobbing, lobbying, lobbying. Both the State of the Regions and PricewaterhouseCoopers reports underpin our call for fair treatment and a share of a growth tax. We want a better and fairer deal for Local Government - your communities deserve nothing more and nothing less."
He called on all Councils over the next months to highlight this to local MPs and their local media.
"We must all drive this local campaign back in our places," Paul Bell said. "We need to raise public awareness that our ageing infrastructure is adversely impacting on the vibrancy and health of communities. Our three Fs campaign - fair funding, fair treatment and formal recognition can well be joined by a fourth F - failing and deteriorating infrastructure."
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