Challenges similar and unique
In May the Commonwealth Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government, the Hon Warwick Smith MP, addressed the IMM National Congress in Canberra.
In his address the Minister said that while Local Government experienced challenges similar to those of other levels of government and business, other challenges were unique.
He drew particular attention to three key themes.
- Local Government has a responsibility to maintain and enhance the more intangible things that people value, such as sense of community.
- Local Government is important to the achievement of national priorities.
- Local Government needs to keep striving to be more efficient and effective.
Minister Smith highlighted the contribution that a sense of shared purpose, identity and place can make to the quality of life and community well being in Australia. Local Government has great potential to contribute to improvements in these areas. Councils are themselves the custodians of many traditions and symbols of community, including the capacity for citizens to participate in decision making about local matters.
Councils and Shires also frequently have closer linkages with the voluntary sector or individual volunteers than other levels of government. They can provide a focus for encouraging and harnessing wider participation in service which can strengthen communal ties.
Minister Smith pointed out that Local Government has an important role in the delivery of services that contribute to the quality of life of all Australian communities. Services provided by Councils such as community, cultural and recreational facilities; local public works; public health, and building, planning and development approvals are vital to business as well as individuals.
Through its service delivery Local Government can make a valuable contribution to important national priorities such as regulatory reform, work for the dole, immunisation and community health, and telecommunications.
The Commonwealth looks to Local Government for active and positive engagement in key areas and sound leadership within the community to ensure that policy on key issues is informed by insights about how the policies work at the local level.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
The Minister issued a challenge to Councils to provide the highest quality and widest range of services consistent with the needs and aspirations of their communities and the resources available. Many Councils have initiated and enthusiastically embraced activities designed to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness and this is to be encouraged
Councils cannot perform efficiently if they are too small to achieve economies of scale. Minister Smith pointed out that most States are now either undertaking or considering structural reform of Local Government. South Australia has implemented a useful model for advancing structural reform in Local Government.
The Local Government Boundary Reform Board was established by the South Australian Government to assist in the process of rationalisation and to engender community participation in determining the outcomes.
The Commonwealth government is providing financial assistance to South Australia in this work. The Commonwealth is also providing funding support for structural reform initiatives in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Sport and Local Government
In his address, Minister Smith also drew attention to the relationship between sport and Local Government. Access to good sporting and recreational facilities is integral to the quality of life the community enjoys and can have direct economic benefits as a result of a healthier population.
Local Government is a key player in providing local residents with access to sporting and recreational programs and facilities with annual expenditure of more than one billion dollars. The House of Representatives Standing Committee of the Environment, Recreation and the Arts is inquiring into the funding of community sporting and recreational facilities. It is due to report in October 1997.
The inquiry is examining existing and future funding requirements for national, regional and local community facilities. An important initiative currently under way is the Active Australia Program. This has the objective of seeing all Australians actively involved in sport, community recreation, fitness, outdoor recreation and other physical pursuits.
The National Office of Local Government, in conjunction with the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Local Government Association, will be conducting a number of pilot projects. Here designated Councils will demonstrate how to implement Active Australia via a total community Council approach.