Australians have a strong connection to their local councils despite public confidence in institutions hitting an all-time low, Labor frontbencher and south Australian Senator Penny Wong says.
Addressing a conference of south Australian local government professionals last week, Senator Wong said people working in all levels of government need to rebuild trust in their communities.
However she noted that while governments were struggling to retain the confidence of their constituents, local government came out relatively well in a recent survey looking at the level of trust in institutions.
The Essential poll, conducted late last year, found 42 per cent of respondents trusted their local council, the highest level of trust in three years and up four per cent from a year ago.
In comparison, 31 per cent said they trusted state government. Trust in federal government meanwhile had fallen two per cent from 2017 to 28 per cent.
Winning back trust through communication
Senator Wong told the annual conference of Local Government Professionals Australia, SA, themed Communicate to Captivate: Conversations in Local Government, that in order to claw back trust governments need to consider the way they communicate and engage with their communities.
“How we communicate across political divides, how we communicate across tiers of government, how we seek to build partnerships in order to address the collective challenges that our communities face,” she told representatives from more than 68 councils from across South Australia in Adelaide last Friday.
Senator Wong said local councils played a grass-roots role by driving local economies, supporting people through natural disasters and providing community-building public spaces, which gave them a head start in the engagement stakes.
“Your work – as librarians, administrative officers, team leaders, managers, directors and Chief Executive Officers – plays a vital role in our state,” she said.
“Your work – by its nature – means that your tier of government is perhaps the closest to the communities we all work to represent.”
Signs that communities are engaging with local government were evident at Tasmania’s local elections last year, which saw the highest voter turnout in 20 years and the second highest turnout ever, LGA Tasmania president Doug Chipman told Government News.
“By and large people do value their local representation, if there are issues that come up then the local communities certainly look to their councils and become engaged quite passionately,” Cr Chipman said.
With a federal election expected in May, Senator Wong also took the opportunity to put the boot into the federal government, attacking the coalition for abandoning the Australian Council of Local Government, freezing the indexation of financial Assistance Grants for three years and cutting the budgets of local government.
Annual funding for local governments would fall from $7 billion to $4.5 billion in 2021-22, she said.
Annual investment in the private sector had also fallen by 15 per cent since 2013 when the coalition came to government, she said, with a 19 per cent decline of investment in transport infrastructure.
Labor, on the other hand would invest in services by like schools, hospitals, universities and vocational training and reverse the decline in infrastructure investment, Senator Wong said.
Labor’s policies of reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax and ending cash refunds for excess divent imputation credits would help fund the investment, she said.
Comment has been sought from the government.
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