What the Federal politicians said

Extracts from speeches delivered at the 1998 National General Assembly of Local Government.

Senator Ian Macdonald, Federal Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government

In his first speech as Minister for Local Government, Senator Macdonald said he was pleased to be back working with Local Government people. As well as a period as Shadow Minister, the Senator was a Councillor on Queensland's Shire of Burkedin for 11 years.

Pointing out that he is one of the few Senators living in regional Australia, Senator Macdonald said that Local Government is 'perhaps the most significant partner in regional service initiatives'.

"The Federal Government is committed to assisting Councils to meet community needs," he said. "In getting the economy right we were obliged to cut back on spending which has caused pain to some Australians. In our second term we will be addressing this."

Turning to the introduction of a GST, he said that any GST paid by Councils will be fully refunded. It is ratepayers as the final customer who will have to pay.

"Only on commercial activities undertaken by Council will a GST be applied," the Senator said. "But what is commercial? If the activity is done somewhere for a commercial gain then a GST will apply."

He added that under the package, the States and Territories must guarantee funding for Local Government will be maintained at the current level.

"Local Government will also benefit from the States having access to a reliable growth tax through GST," Senator Macdonald said.

He concluded by assuring those present that submissions made by Local Government are 'invaluable in preparing our submission for the Premiers' Conference'.

Senator Meg Lees, Leader of the Australian Democrats

"The Democrat's position on Local Government is one which most of you would agree with - we support the notion of subsidiarity, that is where as many decisions as practicable are made at the level of government closest to the people affected by that decision," Senator Lees said.

She said that this being the case, it is vital that Local Government should be an equal partner at both the National and State level.

"It was the Democrats that suggested the Senate look at the relationships between our three levels of Government," Senator Lees said. "And it was the Democrats that urged the democratic rights of Local Government be protected at the Constitution Convention."

However, she added it is vital for Councils to win the debate back in their local communities and demonstrate they practice good governance.

"The message from the Federal election result is that Australians are thinking more and more about the way we are governed," Meg Lees said. "People are pining for a sense of community and belonging."

She said Local Government is shouldering the responsibility of keeping communities intact when jobs disappear and services are cut.

"Yet Local Government is rarely offered a place at the negotiating table," she said. "Local Government was not included in discussions ahead of Wik legislation and the National Heritage Trust, despite the fact that Councils are doing much in these areas at the community level."

On the Tax Package, she said that Local Government's future role and status is uncertain and it could change Commonwealth/Local Government relations forever. For this reason Local Government must be at the policy table. She said the Democrats will push for a two tiered Senate inquiry into the tax package.

"This is normal Senate procedure, so why is the Government so reluctant to let the Senate do its job?" she said. "If the GST places more strains on struggling communities we will have failed as a nation.

"We need less talk of tax cuts and more about properly funding services, protecting the environment and creating jobs."

Senator Sue Mackay, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government

Senator Mackay said that relinquishing Commonwealth funding to the States is not acceptable to Labor as it poses a serious threat to partnerships between the three spheres of government.

"Handing funding to the States at this time beggars belief," she said. "It may result in a dissolution of the Commonwealth/Local partnership created over the last quarter of a century.

She questions what real, long term guarantees are there to ensure the States will provide adequate resources for Local Government.

"Labor will fight the introduction of a GST without the full scrutiny of Parliament," Senator Mackay said. "With a 17 day deadline for the Vos Committee, what happened to the rigorous community consultation promised in the election campaign?"

She added that three years of cuts to regional Australia has placed more pressure on Local Government than ever before.

"I believe a partnership with Local Government in developing a comprehensive regional development plan is vital," she said. "Local communities must be empowered to develop their own agendas for growth. The diverse regions are the engines of the country's economic growth."

She said Councillors fulfil an onerous task but are all committed to the same thing, 'fighting for the best outcome for the people you represent'.