As I muse about this, my final editorial and ruminate on the role my sisters Eryl and Corinne Morgan played in starting up Local Government Focus and steering the newspaper through its first 25 years, and how it then passed to me 10 years ago. I remember how it was back then and wonder how far we have actually come in local government.
The front page of the first issue of Local Government Focus in October 1985 introduced itself to the sector as ‘Your new L.G. newspaper: for stirring the pot or wrapping the fish?’
As I look back to Volume 1 Number 1, I see much in local government has changed, while much is still the same.
In June 1988 one headline read Constitutional Recognition of LG – over to you.
Again in 1997, there was a report from the 4th National General Assembly (incidentally, the year of ALGA’s 50th Anniversary), which included plans for the pursuit of Constitutional Recognition for Local Government.
Does anyone remember the National Constitutional Summit in December 2008? And when in 2011 the then Prime Minister agreed to a referendum by 2013.
A new taxation system arrived on 1 July 2000. While the states were the major beneficiaries, Local Government hoped it would be able to access some of the additional monies. ALGA President at the time, John Ross, said the association had argued for six percent of GST collected to be paid directly to local government, to replace FAGS and provide a funding stream with a built in growth element. ‘They were dreaming!’
LG Focus ran a series of articles in 2008 exploring local government as an equal partner in the Federation, looked at the sector’s image in the media. Victoria’s Age newspaper was at the time, running a series of articles questioning the future sustainability of local government, citing its loss of powers to the states, and pointing to the diminishing diversity in candidates nominating for council elections blaming bullying. It went on to say that while similar or worse behaviour occurs in government at state and federal levels, it does not actually prove an obstacle to getting things done, whereas bad behaviour at the local government level can lead to the breakdown of the system; after all the effectiveness of a councillor depends on their capacity to cooperate with their colleagues.
All sates have seen the Local Government Act reviewed in recent years and all have revised codes of conduct and conflicts of interest, and while dysfunctional councils and councillors behaving badly will probably still occur in the future, it should be remembered that almost all nominees toss their hat into the ring for the betterment of their communities.
So, while funding deficits and cost shifting and conflicts of interest continue to plague local government, many things have changed.
Women are represented in local government in far greater numbers in elected and executive positions, and with the help of goals and legislated targets, every election sees an improvement.
Councils are leading the way in sustainability through example – in how they conduct their own business, through education and advocacy, and by enabling their communities to become more sustainable.
The last two years have tested everyone. Local government has been called on to do more, to give more, and to be more than ever before.
As borders open and we look forward to resuming some sense of normality, I sign off on behalf of the Morgan family and welcome the Star News Group who will continue LG Focus into the future.