As the federal election draws closer, local councils across Australia have issued their election shopping lists and it’s all about buoying up infrastructure investment, fixing roads and bridges and dealing with climate change. Councils are also calling for fairer funding and an acknowledgment of the burden they carry through cost-shifting by other levels of government.
The heavy cost of maintaining roads and bridges, combined with the federal government’s failure to future-proof financial assistance grants (FAGs) to councils has dramatically weakened councils’ ability to prop up crumbling infrastructure.
It’s no surprise that a priority for local councils is the reintroduction of the indexing of FAGs and more cash for local roads and bridges under the government’s Road to Recovery program.
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), which represents Australia’s local councils, said there was a $1.2 billion annual funding shortfall to maintain Australia’s local roads.
The federal government’s Roads to Recovery funding is $1.155 billion for 2016-17 but will the pot of cash reverts to $350 million each year from 2017-18 onwards.
This has alarmed local councils and ALGA is arguing that this amount should be doubled to at least $700 million a year.
ALGA President Troy Pickard said: “ALGA has called for additional funding for the Roads to Recovery program and the extra funds indicated in the budget will be welcomed in helping to address the challenge of maintaining more than 640,000 km of local roads.
“But more needs to be done to ensure the local road network has the capacity required to address access, productivity and road safety issues, especially in regional areas. Additional investment in local roads must be part of the solution to increasing transport productivity on the nation’s transport network.”
Bill McArthur, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) agreed that federal government should permanently double the Roads to Recovery funding.
“Local roads make up 75 per cent of the entire national road network and are a huge cost for councils to maintain and upgrade,” Mr McArthur said.
“Local government collects just 3.6 per cent of all taxes nationally, yet its small budgets are responsible for maintaining $354 billion in local roads, facilities and infrastructure relied upon by communities every day.”
ALGA has also said that the $300 million five-year Bridges Renewal Programme, which ends in 2018-19, should be made permanent.
- Community infrastructure funding
Community infrastructure covers a broad range of buildings: sports halls, community centres, arts centres and educational buildings. The 2015 State of the Assets Report found that 11 per cent of council community infrastructure was in poor or very poor condition.
ALGA is asking for $300 million per year over the next four years to ensure this infrastructure is a good standard, particularly to ensure it is accessible to everyone, whether it’s for people with disabilities, older people or parent with prams.
Establish a local government Higher Productivity Investment Plan
The plan would address the efficient movement of freight – whether by road, rail, ship or air – exploring how best to target investment, developing a more detailed inventory of road assets and working closely with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to ease regulatory reform.
Local roads and the critical part they play in transport infrastructure, especially first and last mile access, and increasing freight access would also be considered.
ALGA said: “We must unlock local and regional productivity improvements through investment that improves access for freight vehicles and connectivity between local roads and preferred state and national freight routes.”
The plan would cost around $200 million per year for five years.
Thawing the freeze on FAGs comes up every time at every local government conference.
Mr McArthur said that the three-year indexation of grants had cost Victorian councils $118 million; Local Government NSW estimated that the three-year freeze will have left a $288 million hole in the NSW Local Government sector.
There are also calls to make increase the quantum of FAGs to at least 1 per cent of Commonwealth taxation. The current base funding is $2.3 billion and ALGA is asking the government to increase the pot of cash to $3.8 billion “to better reflect the actual cost of local government services and infrastructure.”
Local councils have been complaining for years about the increased burden on them of ‘cost shifting’ where councils are expected to take on responsibilities that were previously the state or federal government’s but only partially funded to do this. Examples include library services, pensioner rate rebates and waste management.
An LGNSW report on cost-shifting, conducted every two years, found that councils were carrying an additional burden of more than $670 in the 2013/14 financial year.
ALGA has requested $100 million over four years to support councils to work with communities and businesses to implement local and regional Climate Change Plans.
These plans use proven climate change strategies to reduce emissions and adapt to unavoidable climate change impacts. The Association is also keen for smaller regional councils to develop their own adaptation plans and undertake climate vulnerability assessments.
You can ALGA’s key priorities for local government here.
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