Despite some discussion concerning when the next millennium actually commences, people everywhere are gearing up to celebrate a new century and millennium in just over 11 months time. Milestones such as this encourage people to have a greater propensity to embrace change. Throughout the 90s many communities have been reflecting on how far they have come and what new opportunities lie ahead. Looking back to this same period last century, Australians eagerly prepared for nationhood with a new Federation.

The 20th century has seen massive changes our predecessors, last century, could never in their wildest dreams have envisaged. Developments in transport, information technology, medical breakthroughs, lifestyle changes and so forth, have made our lives easier but at the same time more complex. Moreover, as part of the global village, our horizons can now be stretched much further.

So as we conclude this millennium, our lives should be better than those of our parents and their parents. And this should be the same for our children and their children. But is this in fact the case? Are we as a community ensuring everyone can share fully in the opportunities and benefits?

Recent economic difficulties have created a situation of winners and losers. Across Australia some areas are faring much better than others. In spite of low inflation, low interest rates and better than predicted growth, unemployment continues to be our greatest problem, particularly for our young people.

Councillor John Campbell, President of the Australian Local Government Association, believes questions of viability hang over vast areas, including the whole of Tasmania and South Australia and many other regions. This is not just an issue facing rural and remote areas, there is real cause for concern in suburbs in Melbourne and Sydney and many provincial centres.

A division is emerging between the successful and not so successful regions. Some Australians feel like second class citizens with their locality suffering from higher unemployment and lower per capita income.

With sections of Australia losing all hope, real leadership is urgently required. Leaving it to laissez faire or market forces is simply not working. Solutions demand money but John Campbell rightly stresses this must be thought through and well spent, involving all spheres of government, and particularly Local Government and local businesses.

It is a major challenge but one Local Government is well placed to help address. However, Local Government can only do this if it is able to continue to build on its vital role. This means being at the table during decision making and then being adequately resourced to deliver national policy objectives on the ground. Above all, it must not be further fettered by constitutional and financial constraints imposed by the other spheres of government.