Councils applaud local infrastructure investment

By Adam Coleman

Local Government across Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of the $300 million Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.

While some estimates have put the cost of addressing Australia’s local infrastructure backlog at around $15 billion, local government has heralded the funding announced at today’s inaugural Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG) as a good start.

The President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), Paul Bell, said today’s announcement meant a great deal to Australian communities.

Cr Bell said the funding “will see swimming pools, community centres, libraries, sporting grounds, parks and council-run Meals-on-Wheels kitchens renewed and brought into the 21st century”.

“These facilities are the life-blood of our suburbs and our towns," he said.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) welcomed the $300 million as recognition that local government is well placed to stimulate local economies.

“This funding will help to breathe life into communities across the nation during the global financial crisis,” MAV president Dick Gross said.

Cr Gross said each year in Victoria there is a shortfall of $280 million in spending “as councils struggle to raise the necessary revenue to ensure maintenance and renewal occurs at a faster rate than the infrastructure deteriorates”.

“Struggling rural and regional areas already suffering from the prolonged drought will particularly benefit from this vital economic stimulus package.”

President of the Local Government Association of NSW, Genia McCaffery says the program will help New South Wales to tackle its own sizeable backlog.

“The Associations have been calling for a community infrastructure fund for a number of years and with a $7.8 billion infrastructure backlog in NSW, the program is definitely a positive step forward,” said Cr McCaffery.

However she stressed the funding “isn’t a silver bullet” and that local government needs to have realistic expectations about what can be achieved and “continue to look at other ways of boosting council revenue”.

President of the Shires Association of NSW, Bruce Miller expects to see the program extended into the next Federal Budget.

“An ongoing commitment to the program is essential for councils to strategically plan for future infrastructure and will help address the annual $500 million infrastructure funding gap,” Cr Miller said.

The South Australia Local Government Association (LGA) said its member councils were ready to rollout projects having just updated their infrastructure management plans.

LGA president Joy Baluch said the $300 million investment would deliver a “double benefit because it will help to boost the economy and support communities through the next 40 to 60 years.”

"We’re yet to see the program details but based on what we’ve heard so far, this is a real win for local communities in South Australia," Mayor Baluch said.

False reports in the national media last month had many in local government believing the funding would be closer to $600 million.

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