PM&C accused of breaking commitment to local government

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been questioned over the government’s commitment to local government after it was revealed the sector’s peak body has only been invited to one of the nine National Cabinet meetings since the Labor came to power.

Senator James McGrath

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) was previously a member of the Council of Australian Governments but was sidelined when COAG was replaced by National Cabinet in 2020 by the Morrison Government.

Going into the 2022 federal election, Labor promised to give local government a “genuine voice” on National Cabinet .

In response, ALGA vowed to push to be made full members of national cabinet, warning that being invited to one meeting a year fell short of Labor’s commitment.

Last appearance in February

A Senate estimates committee on Monday heard that the only appearance made at National Cabinet by a local government representative so far was when ALGA president Linda Scott was invited in February.

Asked by Senator James McGrath whether this represented a ‘genuine voice on national cabinet’, PMC bureaucrat Lee Steel said ALGA was invited at least once a year to National Cabinet.

She added there are several ministerial councils in which ALGA was closely involved, and it also gets to attend the Council on Federal Financial Relations once a year.

It wasn’t some reference to a time share where once a year they would have a seat. It was: ‘They will have a seat.’

Senator James McGrath

But Senator McGrath said the policy around local government’s presence on National Cabinet didn’t say ‘once a year’.

“The policy, from my understanding of it, was quite clear, especially when it says ‘local government will have a seat at the National Cabinet table in an Albanese Labor government’,”  he said.

“It wasn’t some reference to a time share where once a year they would have a seat. It was: ‘They will have a seat.’ There was no caveat.

“I ‘m just trying to work out how the promise before the election was that local government would have a seat, and after the election we’re being told that local government has a seat once a year.

“To me … that’s like a breaking of a commitment or a promise to local government across Australia.”

Level of consultation questioned

Witnesses were also asked about the level of consultation between PM&C an ALGA.

Ms Steel said “to the best of my recollection” there hadn’t been any consultation in relation to ALGA’s seat on National Cabinet, and Senator Penny Wong said she would have to take on notice a question about whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had spoken to ALGA about the commitment.

“You’re not really doing a good job at it, at the moment, sadly, are you? Come on. How many times has the Prime Minister met with the ALGA president or other representatives of ALGA since becoming Prime Minister?” Senator McGrath said.

 Ms Steel replied: “We’d have to take that on notice.”

Australian Council of Local Government

Meanwhile, another bureaucrat from PM&C, Liz Hefren-Web said she “believed” Mr Albanese would be attending the ALGA General Conference in June, which will also see the first meeting in ten years of the reconvened ACLG.

“I believe so. But I don’t want to mislead you, so let me confirm that,” she said.

Established in 2008, the ACLG was an annual meeting involving the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, mayors, shire presidents, and local government stakeholders to engage directly on matters of significance to local and federal governments.

It was later abolished by a Liberal Coalition government, a decision Mr Albanese has likened to “ripping away an important function of the relationship between the two levels of government”.

Local government minister Catherine King announced in February the ACLG will be held in Canberra on June 16 following ALGA’s National General Assembly.

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