By Angela Dorizas
In the lead-up to the Federal election, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has reminded major parties to consider its ten-point plan of local government policy priorities.
The document outlines local government’s demands of both major political parties, including a review of local government revenue, continuation of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program (RLCIP) and permanent funding for local roads.
ALGA president Geoff Lake said local government was still waiting to see a comprehensive local government policy from the major political parties.
“Local communities continue to wait in the hope that the major parties will release a comprehensive policy addressing the myriad issues at the local area such as cities policy, local road funding and town planning,” Cr Lake said.
“One thing that should be obvious to both sides is that programs which fund councils are programs that can be delivered on time, on budget and in a transparent and accountable way throughout the country.”
Cr Lake said the 10-Point Plan had been referenced by both the Labor Government and Coalition in discussions surrounding election commitments.
“We’ve certainly heard them refer to it,” Cr Lake told Government News.
“There have been a number of meetings that have occurred with people involved in local government… where the 10-point plan has been highlighted or referenced by Government or members of the Opposition.”
Cr Lake said there were indications that the Government was considering local government’s recommendations in relation to population growth in regional communities.
“We’re pleased that it is being referred to and we’d be hopeful that all of the points we’ve made in that document would be responded to in some way, ideally through a dedicated local government policy,” he said.
Cr Lake said the priority issue in ALGA's 10-Point Plan was a need to improve the funding local government receives from the Federal Government.
“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,” Cr Lake said.
“That’s money that we believe a federal government interested in nation building should be prepared to allocate to councils.”
In an address to the ALGA National General Assembly in June, Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese said Labor supported direct funding of local government and had already delivered on point five of the plan to support a referendum on constitutional recognition.
“[We] will provide $250,000 to ALGA to raise the profile of constitutional recognition of local government, particularly in local communities,” Mr Albanese said.
He said Labor had also committed $100 million in funding for regional and local community infrastructure. It is the third round of RLCIP funding, bringing the Government’s total spending to more than $1.1 billion since November 2008.
In relation to population growth, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that a re-elected Labor government would provide $200 million to help local government boost housing supply in regional communities and relieve pressure on capital cities.
The Coalition has also signalled a shift towards direct funding of local government, promising to create a $600 million program to repair and rebuild ageing and decaying bridges across Australia.
Shadow Minister for Local Government Warren Truss said a Coalition government would contribute $300 million over four years to a Bridges Renewal Program, matched dollar for dollar, and on a case by case basis, by local or state governments.
“It’s been an issue identified with us by councils, especially in the eastern states… and we felt it needed some kind of special initiative to be able to try and address that problem,” Mr Truss told Government News.
He said the existing Roads to Recovery program allowed for funding to be spent on bridges, but in local government areas where there were multiple ageing bridges the money did not go far enough.
Mr Truss added that local government’s demand for a greater share of tax revenue could not be met while the budget was in deficit.
“Whilst I’ve always acknowledged the wish of local government to have a more reliable growth tax I don’t know that that’s going to be economically possible in the short term,” he said.
THE 10-POINT PLAN
All political parties and Federal candidates are called upon to:
1. Support the establishment of a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into the adequacy of local government revenue;
2. Continue investment in the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, so that more of the current stock of ageing local community infrastructure can be renewed and upgraded;
3. Invest further in: a) The Roads to Recovery program by making it a permanent funding program maintained at current levels in real terms; and b) Consultation with local and regional communities and local government about transport planning, including any proposed road user charges that may be implemented into the future;
4. Support local government as an equal partner with the Commonwealth in the planning and delivery of important, mutually agreed national outcomes, underpinned by a renewed and strengthened Intergovernmental Agreement which promotes collaboration and prevents cost-shifting;
5. Support a referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution including a commitment to fund a public awareness program on the nation’s Constitution and to consult ALGA on the question to be put to the referendum;
6. Support direct funding to help local government work with local and regional communities to plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change at the local level, including through coastal planning that takes account of likely sea level rises and through investment in improved water sensitive urban design projects;
7. Harness the experience of local government in waste management so that national policies are developed and delivered effectively and at lowest cost to local and regional communities;
8. Recognise that planning must occur within a co-ordinated framework that links national, state, regional and local goals and the need to strengthen local government’s role in planning;
9. Support local government to maintain and strengthen local government services to Indigenous communities;
10. Work with local government to ensure the equitable roll-out and installation of the National Broadband Network and further ensure that acceptable community standards are met in the installation of all telecommunications technologies in local government areas.
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