Slotted fortuitously between the end of the most recent Victorian lockdown and the beginning of the New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Western Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory lockdowns, local government representatives from across the country enjoyed a brief return to normal, albeit COVID-normal, at the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) National General Assembly (NGA) which ran 20-23 June.
The festival atmosphere, generated by this brief respite from the hardships of the last 18 months of natural disasters and pandemic induced lifestyle and economic changes, made this brief coming together of around 750 councillors and council staff something special.
What was not different was the shenanigans on ‘the hill’.
The first dignitary onstage was acting Prime Minister the Hon. Michael McCormack. He couldn’t stay long having an appointment in the party room where he faced a contested leadership vote and was promptly replaced by the Hon. Barnaby Joyce as National Party leader. The acting Prime Minister was forced to reign ignominiously, though briefly, from the back bench until his replacement was sworn in.
The traditional visit from the sector’s own Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, the Hon. Mark Coulton MP received a warm welcome and a standing ovation from some sections of the audience (most loudly from his rellies in the Gwydir Shire stalls).
He noted with some ire that he had made his first address as Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government at the NGA in 2019 and would be making his last address as the head of that portfolio at the NGA 2021 as he expected to be removed from the ministry by the end of the week, and so it came to be.
The Minister once again called on the sector to abandon its call for 1 percent FAGs saying that if that had been in place last year the sector would have received less than was given, a fact that was disputed by ALGA President, Linda Scott.
However, his final words of advice were typically warm and supportive, “Don’t ever forget the value of local leadership for communities.”