Much has been said in the past three months about the Federal Government’s decision to not include the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) in the newly formed National Cabinet, effectively sidelining local government from decision making at the national level.
The ALGA was part of the cabinet’s predecessor, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) giving Local Government a voice alongside state and territory first ministers on decisions affecting the country.
Under the new system local government will have representation on a number of subcommittees effectively keeping its voice at arms length from the actual decision making.
Instead of a seat at the main table, ALGA was given a role on the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC), which will meet once a year to focus on priority national federation issues such as Closing the Gap and Women’s Safety.
The NFRC is comprised of the National Cabinet and the Council of Federal Financial Relations – federal and state/territory treasurers – and the ALGA.
According to the Prime Minister, the National Cabinet will have one single goal – job creation.
If so, it is difficult to understand why a hands on role for local government would not seem vital to that mandate, councils are responsible for delivering much of the infrastructure that will support this goal.
In many communities local government is the largest local employer, especially those regions furthest from the seats of power and decision making in capital cities.
It has a significant role in local planning with repercussions for attracting and developing opportunities for employment.
It is a substantial provider of aged care, public health and childcare and to quote ALGA President, Mayor David O’Loughlin, has ‘a powerful role in community education, compliance and enforcement, economic development, and business support across the entire nation’.
Local government is responsible for 75 percent of the nation’s roads and advocates for, provides, manages, facilitates and supports most of the country’s sporting, arts and cultural, and regional tourism infrastructure.
If Prime Minister Morrison wants to use the National Cabinet to improve efficiency in decision making around jobs creation for the ‘whole’ nation it has to be asked – why put in an extra layer and increase the distance between those who decide and those who are best placed to know what is needed and equally how best to achieve it at a local level.