Councils debate population, participation and productivity

By Angela Dorizas

More than 700 mayors and councillors from across Australia met in Canberra today for the annual Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly.

The conference brings together a number of leaders and experts exploring the theme of ‘Population, Participation and Productivity’.

Delegates will debate a number of motions submitted by councils, including a call for the Federal Government to fund public transport initiatives, improve migrant settlement services, and introduce a dedicated climate change adaptation fund for local government.

ALGA president and chair of the NGA, Geoff Lake, today released the association’s election document, or ‘10-point plan’, listing major policy priorities for local government in the lead up to the federal election.

“At number one, is a need to improve the funding that local government receives from the Federal Government,” Cr Lake said.

“We need to create an ongoing community infrastructure program that is modelled on the Roads to Recovery program, that provides regular annual funds to councils to be able to address what we know to be, across the local government sector, an approximately $2.5 billion shortfall between what councils spend on maintaining their infrastructure and what they need to spend.

“That’s money that we believe a Federal Government interested in nation building should be prepared to allocate to councils.”

Federal Minister for Local Government, Anthony Albanese, told delegates the Government was committed to an ongoing partnership with the sector.

“The Rudd Government understands that strong local communities added together make a strong nation,” Mr Albanese said.

“That’s why we established the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG), to provide a structural platform for our dialogue and our new partnership.

Mr Albanese defended the Government’s position on untied financial assistance grants to local government.

“We think that local government is in a much better position to determine the priorities for local communities than politicians or bureaucrats in Canberra. That is the bottom line.”

Mr Albanese accused the Opposition of not giving “appropriate respect and recognition to local government”.

“What our political opponents need to explain is exactly where they stand on untied grants to local government, given the criticism made by Senator Barnaby Joyce of the financial assistance grants program and the drawing into question of the Roads to Recovery program in order to fund Coalition promises,” Mr Albanese told Government News.

Today’s proceedings also included a keynote address from host of the ABC 7:30 Report, Kerry O’Brien, and a panel discussion with Press Gallery journalists Chris Uhlmann, Malcolm Farr and Melissa Clarke, presenting their insights on the upcoming federal election.

Over the next few days, delegates will also hear from Minister for Climate Change, Senator Penny Wong; Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott; Leader of the Nationals and shadow local government minister, Warren Truss; and Greens Leader, Bob Brown.

The assembly will include sessions on constitutional change, climate change adaptation, the National Broadband Network and women in local government.

The NGA will be followed by the third meeting of the ACLG at Parliament House on Friday.

There will be full coverage of the NGA in a special Government News e-newsletter on Friday 18 June.

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