What about us? Election campaign disappoints councils

With the federal election less than two weeks away, councils says it’s slim pickings for local government but have put Labor’s policies ahead of the Coalition by a nose.

Local councils across Australia have been let down by election policies on both sides, the head of the national peak body says, with local commitments disproportionately concentrated in marginal seats.

Despite Australia’s councils battling a $30 billion infrastructure backlog and managing a growing waste disposal task, councils have just 3.6 per cent of the nation’s revenue while the government pockets more and more taxpayer dollars, resulting in a “huge disparity,” ALGA president David O’Loughlin told Government News.

The failure of both parties to boost funding to local government through restoration of council’s key funding mechanism, Financial Assistance Grants, from its current 0.55 per cent to 1 per cent of Commonwealth revenue, is the biggest let down of the campaign, Mr O’Loughlin says.

“Neither the Coalition nor Labor have allocated a greater portion of the nation’s tax revenue to local government, so whilst the nation’s tax coffers continue to fill at an increasing rate the proportion flowing to local communities has not – and by their promises, will not – into the future.”

Policy commitments to local councils have been disproportionately concentrated in marginal seats, Mr O’Loughlin said, resulting in inequity for communities in safe seats.

“It is difficult to find measures that really will assist local communities generally. We know there have been specific programs, particularly in marginal seats. As for the nationwide programs ALGA has been seeking, (there is) very little.”

David O’Loughlin

The peak’s election campaign, All Politics is Local, is calling for twelve key commitments including major boosts to grants, more cash into infrastructure, community health, a climate change partnership fund and smart cities.

But this campaign has largely been overlooked, he says, with scarce funding to help councils tackle the infrastructure backlog being another disappointment, Mr O’Loughlin says.

Despite some “minor movements” in the Coalition’s budget to increase Roads to Recovery, blackspots and the bridges renewal program, which are expected to be honoured by Labor, these pledges are “nowhere near enough,” Mr O’Loughlin says.

“It certainly doesn’t begin to touch the sides of the recent national road safety enquiry which suggests we need to spend as a nation $3 billion a year purely on road safety improvements not on new highways, intersections or freight … and we’ve heard nothing on that.”

Councils benefiting from pledges to build airports or improve communications infrastructure from both the Coalition and Labor are the winners from this election campaign, he says.

Labor ahead for councils

While both parties have failed to come to the table on some of ALGA’s key election campaign calls, Labor is marginally ahead because of its environmental policies, Mr O’Loughlin says.

The Coalition’s environmental policies leave it inches behind Labor, he says, with the Coalition putting their focus on making manufacturers more energy-efficient and Labor pushing for a circular economy.

“We would rather spend money or effort on removing inappropriate materials from the waste stream and improving recycling… the Labor party appear to have a much larger fund and want to be taking national leadership (on this),” he said.

If Labor supports the Coalition’s funding commitments to the Roads to Recovery, bridges renewal and mobile blackspots programs, that, combined with their environmental policies, will position them just ahead of the Coalition for councils, he says.

“If Labor match the Coalition’s budget lines and they respond to the call for funding for climate change action then I think Labor’s nose is just in front in terms of support for communities.”

“This is also based on their higher level of support for Indigenous housing programs, their actions aimed at making housing more affordable and their higher level of support for early childhood education and waste and recycling spending. That does put them in front.”

The Labor Party have told Government News that they will release a Local Government Statement before the election.

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