NSW Councils look to the future

Climate change, planning, Local Government reform and dealing with the impacts of the drought will be the focus for New South Wales Councils and their communities over the coming year, according to President of the Local Government Association of New South Wales (LGSA), Councillor Genia McCaffery. The President gave the opening address at the association’s annual conference in October.

Also speaking at the conference, Interim Director at Monash Sustainability Institute, Dr Graeme Pearman, said climate change is a complex and multidisciplinary issue.

“According to Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, climate change is a bigger security threat than terrorism,” he said. “It is happening now and we are nowhere near having the situation under control.”

Dr Pearman said that by 2030, macroeconomic costs for mitigation will be equal to an average reduction of 0.1 per cent of annual GDP growth per year.

“We can make a difference with relatively little cost,” he said. “However, Canberra does not give us this story. They tell us the cost of mitigation would send us back to the caves – this is not true.

“This is the end of a paradigm. It is no longer about the economy versus the environment. It’s about bringing them together.”

New South Wales Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor, addressed the issue of planning reform. He said Local and State Governments need to strike a balance between providing jobs closer to home, reducing traffic congestion and protecting pockets of lands.

“There are also big disparities between Councils’ levies and these have to become consistent,” he said. “This is a national and State issue. All levels of Government need to work together.”

On the issue of Local Government reform, New South Wales Minister for Local Government, Paul Lynch, said he is not opposed to voluntary amalgamations, but confirmed he is not a convert to forced reform.

“Councils are doing a great job of sharing resources and entering into strategic alliances,” he said. “About 125 Councils are already engaged in or planning resource sharing agreements, saving hard earned taxpayers’ money in the process.”

Minister Lynch applauded LGASA’s decision to have New South Wales Councils exempt from WorkChoices.

“WorkChoices puts at risk vital protections like nine weeks’ paid maternity leave, creates more red tape for Councils, damages productivity and will leave workers with less pay in their pockets,” he said. “Councils should protect their workforces and help retain Local Government jobs by staying with the State industrial system.”

Also speaking at the conference, Legislative Assembly Speaker, Richard Torbay, said to achieve new Federalism, we need to start over.

“The intergovernmental relationship is becoming more and more blurred as the buck keeps passing,” he said. “Calls for new Federalism are more than justified, but we need to go back to the drawing board and start again. There should be new debate and it should be led by Local Government.

“The community are the key people to bring with us, not the Government. Speaking with one voice and working together sends a strong message.

“We need to engage the community to come up with workable strategies. If we change their opinion, we can change the polls and ultimately get the Government to respond.

“It is achievable, but we need to stand together to make sure the community comes with us.”