It is often said that Local Government is disparate or not homogenous. Undoubtedly, there is great diversity in regard to size, geography, communities of interest and so forth. However, there is enormous commonality, in that a Council, no matter where it is located, is government by local people for local people. Moreover, Councils are all striving to make the best use of whatever resources they have available on behalf of their communities.

Councils do not wish to operate in isolation. They are keen to share their successes and learn from others. Feedback from our recent Reader Survey certainly reflects this sentiment. Being a large nation with a small population, the tyranny of distance has always been a handicap, but rapid development of telecommunications and information technology is fast bridging the gaps. Australia is one of the front running nations in the development of information technology, and in particular the Internet.

In setting up our FOCUS Web site in 1996, we believed this was an excellent way to assist Councils across Australia to share ideas and keep up to date with key issues. We were also keen to provide a link for Councils around the world to share their ideas and successes, as well as view what Australian Councils are doing.

The FOCUS Web site is an electronic archive, with all articles remaining Online permanently. Our internal search facility assists Web users to research issues or gather information on best practice examples. With over 3,000 hits per month, the FOCUS site continues to attract more and more Web users.

During November, we launched FOCUS Forum. This increases the interactive capacity of our site enabling people with an interest in Local Government to directly exchange ideas, pose questions or engage in debate on policies, issues or events Online.

People visiting the site and entering the Forum can peruse messages already posted, reply to any of these if they wish or add a totally new message. It is simply a matter of clicking the mouse, typing a message, previewing it and then posting it with a further click of the mouse.

To launch the Forum, we have selected two specific topic areas, as well as an Open Forum for people to raise whatever issue they wish. The specific topics are Taxation Reform and Local Government, and Rural and Regional Affairs. These have been chosen as they are topics identified as key issues and considered in depth at the recent National General Assembly in Canberra.

On the current Tax Reform debate, it is vital that Local Government is not left out of the equation. Maintaining Local Government's rating base, more road funding and protection and growth of Financial Assistance Grants must be placed firmly on the table. Funding for Local Government is undoubtedly a perennial issue. Use FOCUS Forum to have your say on this very topical matter.

The recent world wide stock market plunge brings the concept of the global village much closer to home. As regions look to themselves and their international trading partners to secure their future, the role of Local Government in leadership and facilitation becomes even more pronounced. With the Local Government portfolio now in the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Development, new opportunities to compete globally by acting locally are emerging. Local Government has a real chance to create a new agenda for regional development, so why not have your say on this vital matter through our Rural and Regional Affairs Forum.

We look forward to your participation. Do not be daunted by this new technology, like everything, it is easy once you know how.

Web site http://www.loc-gov-focus.aus.net