By Rachel Borchardt
Changes to Queensland’s Local Government Act are long overdue and will make councils more transparent, according to Sunshine Coast Regional Council mayor Bob Abbot.
He said the new legislation, requiring councils to implement long-term infrastructure, asset and financial management plans covering a period of at least 10 years, would ensure local governments were more accountable.
“There will be some difficulty … but it is time that it happened,” Abbot told GovernmentNews.
Implementing the changes is at the top of Abbot’s agenda.
“When all that planning is done and all the understanding and the knowledge is in place you can make good decisions for the future.”
As mayor of Noosa Council, before last year’s amalgamations, Abbot is familiar with long-term planning measures.
While any process of review can pay dividends, he warned the new requirements do present some fresh challenges for councils.
“There are some really tough bullets to bite.”
Accurately assessing the status of infrastructure, achieving sustainable outcomes and developing financial models represent some of the biggest hurdles, Abbot added.
“Councils have been doing that for a long time, it’s just that it’s never been recorded properly … When you expose yourself to information you don’t want to see, it can cause you some problems, but you’ve got to get over it and get it done properly. Once you do that you can actually start to plan how to bring those assets up to speed and you actually see where you need to get your money.”
Community consultation will be crucial as the legislative changes take effect.
“We need to include our communities in that decision-making process … (because if) you can take your community with you on that ride it makes it a lot easier in the long term,” Abbot said.
For the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, the priorities are clear.
In its 2008-09 budget, $8.8 million was committed to environmental programs and projects, $8 million to key tourism and economic development projects and $1.01 million for a Sunshine Coast Grants Program that supports the community.
In April, councillors agreed unanimously to impose a transport levy of $20 a year per ratepayer to help source the funding required to develop a comprehensive public transport system.
“Long term we have to get an understanding that there is an investment for public transport on the Sunshine Coast up to around $8 billion required in the next 20 years and that sort of money has got to be found,” Abbot said.
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