National assembly

Article image - National assembly Delegates respond to the address by Mark Coulton MP

Canberra was host to almost 900 mayors, councillors and chief executive officers last month at the 25th annual National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) hosted once again by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), the sector’s national peak body.

Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Michael McCormack, in his dual roles as acting Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, provided the opening address.

Talking on the adage that ‘all politics is local’ he sympathised with Local Government for being the visible face of government, acknowledging the community’s penchant for holding its council responsible for everything from the potholes and cracked pavements to delivery of the big ticket items.

His advice to councils was ‘bring forward the small projects and get them ticked off’ in the first year of the Federal Government’s current term; 24,000 Department of Infrastructure projects are currently underway and more will follow.

Newly appointed Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, the Hon. Mark Coulton, presented the National Awards for Local Government at the gala dinner, announcing City of Sterling, Western Australia, as the winner of the National Award for Excellence for its Kaleidoscope Initiative.

He delivered his vision for Local Government to the assembly the following day and was available to meet with many councils as well.
Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, the Hon. Jason Clare MP, also addressed the assembly.

All three ministers professed support for constitutional recognition of local government, while Minister McCormack cautioned that it was not a priority for the Australian voters and to win such a referendum would be difficult.

He acknowledged the benefits of a direct funding pathway between federal and local government using Roads to Recovery program as an example of the success of that link but did not commit to support for an increase in Financial Assistance Grants funding.

Infrastructure Audit
Chief Executive Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew AO, said informing ‘the big picture view of Australia’s infrastructure investment and reform needs’ was her responsibility and since her appointment in April she was encouraging two-way conversations with the community via Local Government around planning and delivery of infrastructure.

Covering energy, telecommunications, transport, water and social infrastructure, the Audit deals with the main facilities maintained by Local Governments.

“Importantly, the Audit seeks to provide a detailed overview of our infrastructure that is relevant and easily accessible to all Australians.

“For example, one of the challenges we highlight is that reporting on infrastructure does not adequately reflect community experiences, and does not consistently measure performance against outcomes that matter to users – that is access, quality and cost.”

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit paints a picture of future trends that will affect how Australia grows over the next 15 years and beyond.

Local government will have the opportunity to respond on what they see as the key challenges and opportunities ahead when public submissions are invited in response to the Audit.

A presentation from three directors of First Languages Australia, whose work explores the possibilities that might emerge from unlocking the treasure of Australia’s first languages, acknowledged the International Year for Indigenous Languages.

Motions reflect councils’ roles
Urgent action on climate change, recycling, drought, and preparing for more electric vehicles were among the topics reflected in the motions sent by councils from across Australia for voting.

More than a dozen motions urged the Federal Government to declare a climate emergency; others demanded critical action on waste and the mandate of product stewardship.

ALGA President, Mayor David O’Loughlin, said the sheer range of motions to be debated was testament to the many roles local councils play.

“Local councils are at the front line of dealing with three of Australia’s biggest problems – waste, recycling and climate change.

“The number of motions from local councils about these topics, plus drought and water security, demonstrates the serious level of concern many local communities have about these challenges.

Other matters hotly discussed included action on homelessness, health services, and gambling.

Take home message
Among the numerous councils
represented at the Nation Congress, Mitchell Shire Council, Victoria, acknowledged attending the NGA was an opportunity for councils to come together.

Mayor, Bill Chisholm, said, “It gives us a chance to discuss common issues, to look at different approaches people are taking at a local and regional level and to work together as a sector on priority issues.

“The Assembly is also a great chance to meet face-to-face with Federal Government representatives and talk about local matters such as our recent Federal election advocacy campaign on mental health services and the Wallan freeway full diamond interchange.”

Mitchell presented motions on roads, mental health, housing, access to education and waste services with all six motions adopted.