In each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association President. The following is from Councillor John Legoe, President of the Local Government Association of South Australia.
The eagerly awaited Commonwealth response to the Hawker report on cost shifting presents a unique opportunity to set a new direction in intergovernment relations – one which I hope will create the foundation for better collaboration between governments in the interests of communities, along with a more equitable funding base for Local Government.
The recent Federal Budget did little in this regard but I must acknowledge the second year of special payments to acknowledge the inequity in local road funding to South Australian Councils – an allocation of $9 million – another issue addressed by the Hawker report.
At a State level, the SA Government’s 2005 budget had few sweeteners for Councils as we head to a March 2006 State election. Some significant funding agreements were honoured and we saw a small increase in a State program targeting local road black spots.
The major news in SA has been the interim report of the independent inquiry established by the Local Government Association (LGA) to review the financial sustainability of Local Government. Its report has found that on current policy settings, Local Government is not financially viable in the longer term. It suggests Councils have favoured meeting service demands of communities before protecting the viability of the organisation or meeting infrastructure maintenance requirements.
The independent inquiry board is now consulting on the interim report as it aims to produce a final report and recommendations in mid August. The interim report flags that the board believes Councils can improve financial governance, that funding from other governments is unfair and low, that infrastructure funding should be enhanced and that our net debt position is also low.
This is the first such independent inquiry established by Local Government in Australia’s history, we believe. It has already done much to improve community and government understanding and debate of challenges facing Local Government and we believe it will provide an opportunity for us to gain better support from communities and other governments, as well as providing pointers for improvements by Councils.
The inquiry has its own web site at www.localgovinquiry.net.au and the LGA’s initial submission can be found at www.lga.sa.gov.au
The SA Parliament is considering legislation proposed by the LGA which, if passed, will see our elections shifted to a November timing and terms of office extended to four years.
As a member of the Australian Local Government Association Executive and President of the LGA of SA, I am more and more impressed by the sheer volume of the contribution of Councils and Councillors around this nation which I see. While inquiries, government budgets and legislative changes continue unabated, Councils get on with the day to day tasks which make our communities function in the 21st century.