2011 National General Assembly of Local Government

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet

The Minister told delegates that the Climate Commission, which includes some of Australia's leading experts in climate science, recently affirmed that increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly human produced carbon pollution, are causing the Earth to warm and its climate to change.

He said that Local Governments are already dealing directly with the risks and impacts of this.

"Many councils have already moved to low energy operations and are encouraging their local businesses and residents to follow suit," he said.

He said that planning for unavoidable impacts, particularly in the coastal zones requires national leadership but Local Government plays a vital role in achieving consistency in planning and addressing the potential for legal liability.

Minister Combet announced funding of up to $4.5 million under the Government's Coastal Adaptation Decisions Pathways projects. Thirteen projects from 38 proposals, submitted by councils in partnership with local businesses and other stakeholders, to measure risks and come up with pathways for adaptation decisions and future investments in coastal regions have been selected to receive funding up to $500,000.

Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown

Senator Brown said the Greens are committed to a referendum for constitutional recognition of Local Government and the direct funding of Local Government by the Commonwealth Government.

He said that he will take the position allocated to the Greens on the expert panel being established by Minister Crean to drive the agenda for constitutional recognition of Local Government.

"We must get bipartisan support from the major parties and this must be put on the front burner for the next 18 months," he said. "If we don't get everything right this time for a 'yes' vote, it will be a long time before this opportunity comes back again."

He said that agreement on a climate change pact is close but there are still some hurdles to get over.

"If we fail to address the results of climate change then between five to 20 per cent of our national wealth will be stripped away by the second half of this century," Senator Brown said. "Garnaut predicts the loss of food production in the Murray Darling Basin by the end of this century to be 90 per cent."

Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water, Senator Barnaby Joyce

Senator Barnaby Joyce said that costs for councils are increasing at a much greater rate than inflation.

"With roads and bridge construction increasing at around five percent, it is difficult for councils to keep up, particularly in those States with ratepegging," the Senator said. "This is why we proposed our Bridges to Recovery program with a guaranteed share for each council."

Senator Joyce said that the Coalition supports the Government's review of Financial Assistance Grants and Constitutional recognition of Local Government.

He said that with the power drift from the State Governments to the Commonwealth there needs to be devolution back to communities.

"There will be a disconnect from the people if power is centralised in Canberra," he said. "Many government programs could be delivered better if done by Local Government. You are the frontline advocates for a successful referendum result, but you need to keep it simple and be no threat to the States."

He said that Constitutional recognition of Local Government is a policy of the Nationals and the Coalition but at the same time Coalition MPs are always given the choice to disagree and cross the floor.

"I am keen to make sure the referendum succeeds but if we have a block anywhere that opposes it, then we have a problem.

Minister for broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy

Senator Conroy told delegates that the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) would not be happening without the involvement of councils.

He announced a $17.1 million Digital Local Government program to help councils to take advantage of the NBN via the development and upgrading of their online services to local residents and businesses.

He said under the Government's National Digital Economy Strategy by 2020 four out of every five Australian will choose to engage with government via the internet or other online services.

The Government will assist 40 communities to first benefit from the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout with the three year program providing grants of up to $375,000 to eligible Local Governments.

Grants will initially be available for the eight councils in the NBN first release sites in Tasmania and mainland Australia.

These are Moreland City Council (Victoria); Townsville City Council (Queensland); Kiama Municipal and Armidale Dumaresq Councils (New South Wales); City of Onkaparinga (South Australia); Circular Head, Dorset and Sorell Councils (Tasmania).

The Minister said that his Department has released a How to Guide to assist councils to prepare for the NBN.

"I encourage all councils to work with developers and other stakeholders to maximise the opportunities from the rollout," Senator Conroy said.


Local Government needs to develop a brand presence

Local Government needs to develop a 'brand' to handle the challenges presented by a referendum according to a panel of experts as part of the National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra.

The brand would be part of a two tiered campaign to gain support for a referendum on Constitutional recognition of Local Government planned for 2013. The first tier would develop the brand or image of Local Government and the second would deal with the actual referendum.

In a session that delegates found very useful, the panel used a 'Gruen Transfer' format to discuss the way Local Governments could present themselves in the run up to the referendum.

The Gruen Transfer is a popular panel discussion on advertising that airs on ABC TV. The session called "The Pitch: How do we sell Local Government?", examined the campaign needed to garner public support.

Hosted by media identity James O'Loughlin the panel comprised journalist and political commentator Annabel Crabb, former Opposition Leader John Hewson, and communications consultant and lecturer Jane Caro.

The discussion focused on how Local Governments could present their arguments in advance of the debate of the referendum on Local Government.

Jane Caro spoke about the need to work on the brand of "Local Government."

She said the brand is the emotional temperature or response to an organisation or a product. Local Governments needed to build up their 'brand' in advance of the referendum to ensure they were well regarded before the vote.

She believes that Local Governments should not build up the referendum as it would frighten voters away from supporting the measure, adding that if people don't particularly care about Local Government, a major campaign could raise fears and concerns.

John Hewson said Local Governments had to show value for money and that you are 'doing a good job for the money.'

He warned that a 'no' case could easily be developed and it could derail any referendum. The 'no' case could be an amalgam of States rights or simply preying on fears of change.

Annabel Crabb said Local Governments should send gentle reminders to the community about their work.

She warned the community is being constantly bombarded with every type of message.

She said Local Governments needed to develope a 'tone of voice' that showed 'courtesy and respect.' Getting everyone out in the community to present the message 'face to face' would be a great step.

ALGA president Genia McCaffery closed the session saying that it would be available on You Tube for viewing. At the time of going to press, the video was being edited and was not yet available.


Key resolutions

Sustainable Asset Management

Resolution Number: 20

That the National General Assembly calls on the Australian Government to substantially increase the current level of funding provided to councils for the sustainable asset management of local roads and infrastructure.


Roads to Recovery

Resolution Number: 21

That this National Assembly calls upon the Federal Government to continue with the Roads to Recovery (R2R) program and to further expand the R2R program to establish a specific funding pool for bridge and hydraulic infrastructure.


Pressures from Population Growth

Resolution Number: 23

That the National General Assembly call on the Federal and State and Territory Governments to ensure that there is greater recognition of the role of Local Government in the provision of infrastructure, management of environmental concerns and economic and cultural impacts of population increases. The recognition of this role includes appropriate funding models, supportive statutory legislation and genuine partnerships and negotiation with Local Government.


Resolution Number: 25

That the National General Assembly call on the Australian Government to establish, through cooperative partnerships between all levels of government, a clear vision and that sets a social economic and environmental vision for Australia, and to deliver effective services and infrastructure to support the projected growth.


Environmental Sustainability

Resolution Number: 38.2

That this National General Assembly calls on the Commonwealth Government to adopt national standards for energy efficient street lighting and establish a subsidy program to fund Local Government to convert the existing street lighting to more efficient measures.


Child Care Services

Resolution Number: 47

That the National General Assembly of Local Government write to the Commonwealth Government recommending that:

1. It sponsors a working group of National, State, Territory and Local Government representatives together with key child care sector and other stakeholder representatives to examine the current and future cost pressures on child care services and their impact on child care affordability.

2. Implement relevant funding and policy changes that address key issues identified by the working group.


Digital Switchover

Resolution Number: 50

That the National General Assembly call on the Federal Government to consider pooling the Satellite Subsidy Scheme that has been put in place to alleviate the financial burden of households in rural and remote areas for the purchasing and installation of satellite dishes and associated equipment as part of the digital television switchover. Further, that the Federal Government consider allocating the pooled Satellite Subsidy Scheme to Local Governments that manage self help retransmission sites if they decide to continue doing so to enable them to upgrade these sites if it is the most cost effective and efficient method of delivering digital television to their communities.


A complete list of the resolutions passed at this Year's National General Assembly can be viewed at http://nga.alga.asn.au/event/2011_nga/2011Resolutions.pdf