In each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association president. The following is from Councillor Heinz Kreutz, President of the Victorian Local Governance Association.
In my speech at the Sustainability of Australia’s Country Towns Conference in Bendigo on 30 September (now posted at www.vlga.org.au), I said it was more important for our Federal and State counterparts to be doing things differently, rather than just doing more.
I strongly believe that the viability of country towns cannot be separated from the principle of subsidiarity or local decision making.
Local expertise, identity and sense of place are indispensible and must not be ignored. Not involving local communities greatly reduces the capacity for innovation and creative solutions.
Valuing genuine consultation is part of a democratic process. Involving the community and drawing on its collective mind will result in much better outcomes.
Our conviction that local solutions are important, sits at the core of the VLGA, and it is why we emerged as the only democratically organised voice in the immediate aftermath of the sacking of Victorian Local Governments some 15 or so years ago.
Our cynicism towards externally imposed ‘regional development’ solution runs even deeper: in that we say it is not possible to have socially, economically and environmentally sustainable communities if they are not dynamic and inclusive of local people creating their own futures.
If we take the environment and the impact caused by population growth – now that the Federal Government has changed its view towards sustainable population growth I think the three levels of government should enter into an agreement or Accord on Sustainable Growth.
There needs to be a fundamentally different approach to other intractable problems. For example, we need to fix Local Government funding.
As well, the other tiers of government need to reconceptualise their interpretation of Local Government as a sector, and rural and regional municipalities in particular.
The VLGA is working with its regional members towards further removal of capacity constraints and recognition of their financial needs.
It is encouraging to see that the work of Merv and Rohan Whelan has not been automatically dismissed by the State Government, although I don’t under estimate the challenge of tackling funding orthodoxies in the near future.
We also need to accept that local planning and community development projects in country towns need ongoing funding, beyond the fairly rigid funding programs currently available.
I accept that the challenge to improve the viability and sustainability of country towns will remain a complex one.
I also accept that there are more and more voices stating that past simplistic and inflexible solutions are bereft of hope.
I believe our success in improving the viability of our country towns depends on more voices like the VLGA’s saying more of the same is not good enough.
Local voices need to be heard. This is consistent with Minister Crean’s comments recently that the Federal Government needs local input and capabilities to make programs work at the local level.
While I know that some people wince at the term ‘a new paradigm’, I fear that without a new way at looking at the entirely justified and justifiable aspirations of many country towns, their needs will remain unmet.