What the politicians saidMinister for Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport, the Hon. Simon Crean MP
Minister Crean’s address was keenly anticipated, following the Sunday launch of the 2012 – 2013 State of the Regions Report and in light of the some of the pressing issues for local government — climate change, the carbon tax and constitutional recognition.
The Minister began his speech by paying tribute to ALGA President Genia McCaffery, who recently tendered her resignation from local government. Councillor McCaffery has worked closely with Minister Crean throughout her term as ALGA President, and his words of respect for her as an advocate for local government were heartfelt.
Minister Crean went on to say that the issues being discussed and debated at the Assembly were “Important for your communities and important for the nation – infrastructure, planning, services, constitutional recognition, climate change and energy efficiency.”
Describing himself as a ‘glass half full’ sort of person, Minister Crean outlined the position of Australia in relation to the floundering economies of the world’s developed nations. Rather than being intimidated by the challenges facing the nation, Minister Crean said, ”Where there are challenges, I see the opportunities – where there are problems, I am keen to find the solutions.”
Moving on to individually address the themes of the Congress, Minister Crean concluded his speech with a discussion of local government’s crucial role in mitigating climate change.
“I want to finish by congratulating local government on the leadership role you have played in responding to climate change and delivering a clean energy future. Wherever I travel, I find a willingness to embrace a cleaner energy future and a history of action to reduce costs and carbon footprints that goes back many years,” Minister Crean said.
“The actions of local government on the ground in your communities show that far from being scared [by the carbon tax] you have embraced the importance and opportunities in dealing with climate change and understand that by doing so there is a great deal to gain for councils and for your local communities.”
Leader of The Greens, Senator Christine Milne
Senator Milne began her address to the Assembly by calling on Minister Crean to respond to the recommendations of the Expert Panel that examined the recognition of local governments in Australia’s Constitution.
“In December last year, Simon Crean committed to responding to the Panel’s report in early 2012. So far no response has been forthcoming, while The Greens have continued to work for greater recognition of local government and the vital role it has in Australia.”
Senator Milne went on to congratulate local government for the proactive role it has played in moving towards a clean energy society.
“Australia’s councils are supporting our local communities to go green, with energy efficiency and solar hot water programs, biodiversity projects funded by the $1 billion Biodiversity Fund secured by The Greens, and building public support for nuclear free council zones.
“There is no doubt that local government is integral to building the cleaner, smarter and healthier Australia that communities want,” Senator Milne said.
In concluding her speech, Senator Milne underscored The Greens’ support for constitutional recognition and the need for councils to focus their energy on ensuring a referendum takes place.
“There should be no more delay – I encourage local governments and communities to campaign with The Greens in Parliament to put pressure on the Government to schedule the referendum for the next election.”
Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water, Senator Barnaby Joyce
Senator Joyce spoke on the final day of the Assembly, in his role as Shadow Minister for Local Government. In his wide-ranging speech, the Senator outlined the Coalition’s stance on many of the themes of the Congress, including the two big ones — constitutional recognition and the carbon tax.
While an advocate for financial recognition of local government in the constitution, Senator Joyce made his opposition to the carbon tax patently clear.
Arguing that the tax was going to place an unfair burden on councils, and by extension, ratepayers, Senator Joyce said, “As soon as we get into government, the first piece of legislation we will take before the Australian people will be to repeal the carbon tax. Because it is just a patent absurdity.”
The Senator then spoke about the Coalition’s support for local government and his concern at the possible impact of the Williams decision on Federal Government funding of local government programs.
“The Coalition has a long record of supporting local government. That support is underlined by the Coalition’s establishment of the Roads to Recovery program, which now we have to look at; we could have a concern there. It has become an essential element in helping local councils across the country to maintain and upgrade over 650,000 kilometres of local roads.”
Senator Joyce then pledged the Coalition’s continued support for funding of council programs: “The best model of Commonwealth assistance to local governments is one that lets local governments make the detailed decisions within broad, flexible and targeted guidelines.
“The longevity of the Roads to Recovery program, which has barely changed its design since its inception, is testament to it being a prime example of good public policy making.”
In conclusion, Senator Joyce highlighted the central place of local government in the future of the nation, saying, “The role of local government is going to grow and become vastly more important. That is only right, and that is only proper.”