Each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association President. The following is from Councillor Tony Bisdee, President Local Government Association of Tasmania.
The Federal Budget, brought down recently, underlines and exemplifies yet again the Federal Government's preoccupation with the desire to withdraw from continued intergovernmental and financial relations with Local Government.
Evidence of this fact is the exceedingly disappointing decision by the Federal Government to abolish the Local Government Development Program which in 1998/99 was funded to the extent of $11 million. The Federal Government has made a token gesture of support by way of a new Local Government incentive program of $3.5 million per year for the next two years; however, this program is restricted to the implementation of the GST for Councils &endash; this offer is merely tokenism by the Federal Government.
It would appear that the Federal Government have failed to recognise in their review and assessment of the LGDP program the many benefits that were derived from this successful initiative. From the many projects undertaken by Councils through the LGDP program much benefit resulted including a greater capacity by Local Government to undertake increased responsibility and accountability in local governance. The important development programs for both elected and professional officers were also of much benefit for local Councils.
The Federal Government appears determined to withdraw from any further relationship with Local Government and if the GST package had been supported in its original form, then we would all be facing the prospect of being at the mercy of our State Governments. While the Queensland State Government quickly recognised the importance of Local Government in their State by guaranteeing a share of the GST to Local Government, I very much doubt if any other States would have followed this lead.
The ALGA fought hard to win the retention of direct Federal Government funding through the continuance of Financial Assistance Grants. This clearly meets the resolution of the 1998 General Assembly that direct Federal/Local Government funding be retained. However, the full objective has not yet been achieved in that we have not obtained a guaranteed share of either the GST or Income Tax.
ALGA is continuing to campaign vigorously at the Federal level to achieve what is ultimately the most important financial issue for Local Government &endash; a guaranteed share of a growth tax.
The Federal Government's apparent policy to withdraw from further Federal/Local Government relations, fails to recognise the benefits that have arisen from these past intergovernmental relationships. Local Government has successfully delivered in many areas, such as the environment, water quality, job creation and community development, which ultimately have benefited the nation as a whole.
Local Government nationally has achieved, through perseverance and dedication, a degree of independence and autonomy as a competent third tier of Government delivering effective and responsible community governance which is clearly supported by the vast majority of our constituents.
It is this very degree of independence and competence that sets us apart from being just another arm of State Government, and this hard won independence provides the impetus and focus for our elected representatives and professional officers to confidently address the needs and aspirations of our local communities and our constituents.
The Federal Liberal Coalition Government would be well advised to rethink their approach to Local Government nationally and extend recognition and respect where it is well and truly overdue.