Message from the Minister

I am expecting 2006 to be a year of many achievements in Local Government and am looking forward to a productive year working in partnership with you all. This year I am aiming to see significant progress in the implementation of the initiatives agreed to by the Australian Government in its response to the Hawker Report.

Work is continuing on an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on Local Government relations. A draft IGA has been agreed by the special working group of Commonwealth, State and Local Government officials and is currently being considered by Governments and the Australian Local Government Association Board. I hope the text can be cleared to enable endorsement by Ministers at a special meeting of the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council expected to be held in April.

I am pleased with the strong response from Local Governments all around Australia to my request for examples of cost shifting. This material will be of great assistance in the development of future relationships with Local Government.

The Commonwealth Grants Commission review of the interstate distribution of the identified roads component of the financial assistance grants is well underway. Submissions have now closed and the Commission has been asked to report by 30 June 2006.

I am very keen to support a Parliamentary resolution that recognises Local Government as an integral level of governance in Australia and expect to propose a resolution for consideration by both Chambers of Parliament as soon as the Parliamentary timetable permits. I have endorsed a new National Principle under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995 specifying that financial assistance grants for amalgamated Councils should be maintained for four years after an amalgamation. It is intended that funding for the amalgamated Council for the four years would be determined as if the Councils had not amalgamated. The new Principle removes the disincentive to amalgamation that a possible reduction in grants may have presented.

While the Australian Government believes that Councils themselves are in the best position to determine whether amalgamating with a nearby Council will provide a better long term outcome for the residents and communities involved, we are keen to remove any potential impediments to Councils making sensible decisions.