By Kim Powell
In his opening address at the 94th Conference of Local Government in Hobart the new Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) president, Mike Gaffney, told delegates that local government could no longer shirk its responsibilities. His words were not out of place at a conference in which a keynote speaker said the calls for more federal money and constitutional recognition should be put on the backburner because there were more important issues facing local government.
“I wasn’t implying that councils are not being responsible, but if our communities expect us to be sustainable and to be there for the next decade or so, then some of those decisions we have to make are hard ones,” Cr Gaffney told Government News.
“Asset management and renewal of all the infrastructure we have has got to be a priority.”
This meant ensuring existing infrastructure was up to scratch before building new facilities for the community and it that rates would probably have to go up, he said.
“When I first started in local government there was that thing about not putting any rate increases on the community and although that’s a really favourable thing to do, unless we have that finance coming from somewhere else, that’s what we are going to have to do,” Cr Gaffney said.
“Unless the state and Federal governments can work out a better way for us to access some of the funds that are coming through – an economic revival – then councils are going to have to start trimming from the projects they want to be involved with, and at times expected to be involved with because we probably run them more efficiently.”
Cr Gaffney is the mayor of Latrobe, a council northwest of Launceston that incorporates the townships of Latrobe, Port Sorell, Shearwater, Hawley, Wesley Vale, Sassafras, Moriarty and Tarleton. He took over as LGAT president from Flinders Island councillor Lynn Mason who held the role for six years. Now in his mid-forties, Cr Gaffney has been a teacher since 1979. During his 12-year involvement with local government, he has seen the relationship between the different spheres of government become stronger.
“I believe there has been important movement, particularly in Tasmania where our relationship with the state government is positive, and the fact that the Premier [Paul Lennon] has kept local government as his portfolio is a good sign,” Cr Gaffney said.
“The most important thing from a local council level is there seems to be a lot more cooperation and discussion between councils. When I first started it was fairly much a closed shop, but I think over the last decade there has been a lot more willingness to share best practices and there has been a great recognition of the work that local government is doing and continues to do.”
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