The 27th Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) National General Assembly returned to Canberra in June this year after a brief hiatus in 2020 when it was cancelled due to the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Themed ‘Working together for our communities’ this year’s event was marked by a willingness by council representatives to present a united face of local government best demonstrated by the 102 motions brought to the assembly by member councils, of which more than 95 percent were passed.
High on the agenda was the exclusion of Local Government from the national decision making table.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, delivered an address from Kirribilli House where he was quarantining after his return from overseas.
Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack followed, giving what was to be his final speech as leader of the National Party.
In her opening address ALGA President, Linda Scott vowed to continue to advocate for admission to the National Cabinet. She said the exclusion was made on the basis that the National Cabinet was set up to deal with the health crisis caused by the pandemic and local government does not run a health system. The focus had now expanded to planning and managing the recovery, employment and economic stimuli, she explained, and Local Government has a legitimate role to play in that recovery.
“We can’t forget, however, that local government’s ability to support communities has taken a hit because of the drought, bushfires, COVID, and floods.”
Denied financial assistance through JobKeeper and having suffered significant revenue losses during the COVID-19 lockdowns, many councils have depleted their financial reserves.
“Just as it has laid bare the limitations of our national government, COVID has also exposed the inadequacy of grant funding to local government.”
ALGA once again called on the Australian Government to increase funding for Financial Assistance Grants to a level of at least 1 percent of Commonwealth taxation revenue.
Labor leader speaks
Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese pledged to include local government in the National Cabinet. He told delegates that people expected the three tiers of government to work together on their behalf, particularly as the economy emerged from the COVID-induced recession.
“We will ensure local government has a voice in a genuine National Cabinet process, bringing a focus on urban policy to the national stage.”
Mr Albanese also said a future Labor Government would re-establish the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG).
A keynote address delivered by Co-Chair, Senior Advisory Group, Professor Tom Calma AO, reported on the progress of the Indigenous Voice co-design process which is finding a way for Indigenous Australians to provide input to government and the broader community on decisions, laws, programs, policies and services that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The presentation followed several motions to advance reconciliation including East Arnhem Regional Council’s motion to support nationally consistent recognition of Aboriginal-controlled councils.
Delegates were treated to an address by President Linda Scott to the National Press Club, livestreamed into the conference hall, in which she outlined how local governments could carry their communities forward ‘into a strong post-COVID recovery’.
A panel of health experts explained the nature of COVID-19 sharing insights on the rights and wrongs of lockdowns, mass vaccination and border closures.
A panel of mayors from Melbourne, Wanneroo and Barcauldin shared their very different perspectives of the 2020 lockdown and its ongoing legacy.
The mayors of Shoalhaven and Lockyer Valley relived their experience of natural disasters illuminating the lessons learned from catastrophic fires and floods.
Other speakers used their fields of expertise to educate, elevate and inspire. Break-away focus sessions dug deep into councils’ core business. A spotlight was shone on cybersecurity and the growing need for data protection.