BUDGET 09: Funding boost to local government

By Rob O’Brien

Federal funding commitments including a renewal of disaster mitigation programs, new investment in roads and support for drought-affected rural communities, have been welcomed by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) in its response to the Federal Budget.

The Roads to Recovery program will be funded to the tune of $350 million per year for the next five years. A further $1.9 billion in Financial Assistance Grants and $550 million over two years for strategic projects within the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program were also highlights of Treasurer Wayne Swann’s Budget announcement.

Responding to complaints about rural access to a National Broadband Network, the Treasurer also invested $5 million for Rural National Broadband Network Coordinators to encourage broadband usage in local government, communities and businesses.

Rural communities will also benefit from investment worth $715.3 million for drought-affected farmers, farm families, small business and rural communities.

In an innovative push to raise the profile of Australian communities online, a further $15 million will go towards the development of user generated content for ABC websites, to create ‘visual town squares’.

Communities affected by natural disasters will welcome a renewal of disaster mitigation funding with the announcement of a new Disaster Resilience Australia Package, which will receive $79.3 million over the next four years.

"Given the difficult budgetary situation, we are pleased the Federal Government has kept its commitments on local road funding and maintained its commitment to funding local roads at announced rates to 2014," ALGA Chief Executive Officer Adrian Beresford-Wylie said.

"Councils will also welcome early payment of the first installment of $479.7 million of $1.9 billion in Financial Assistance Grants to local government. As Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese said: ‘No community in Australia is immune from the impacts of the global recession.’

"In relation to community infrastructure, Australian communities are already beginning to reap the benefits of the $800 million Community Infrastructure Program, providing better facilities while stimulating local economies and creating jobs.

“We look forward to a commitment from the Federal Government that this funding will become a permanent feature of future budgets in line with last year’s budget announcement to address the well-documented $14.5 billion backlog in community infrastructure renewals.

"There is also good news for local government in the renewal of the disaster mitigation funding through the new Disaster Resilience Australia Package. This will allow councils to continue to invest in disaster mitigation to help protect local communities from the worst impacts of flood and fire."

Other highlights of the Budget:
  • $72 million for Healthy Communities to fund the rollout of lifestyle modification programs focusing on poor nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption;
  • $58.2 million over 4 years as supplementation to local roads to address the relative disadvantage of South Australia in the local roads component of the Financial Assistance Grants;
  • $8.5 billion for nationally significant transport infrastructure projects across Australia;
  • $3 million for 2009 – 10 to up-grade remote area airstrips identified under the Remote Air Service Subsidy Scheme requiring priority work;
  • $156.6 million over 3 years for remote policing and substance abuse initiatives;
  • $10 million over 4 years to support the expansion of the Sporting Chance Program to improve education, life skills and employment prospects for Indigenous students

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