Municipal leaders from across Australia will meet in Canberra next week to call for local government to be reinstated to National Cabinet.
They are also expected to press the Federal Government to increase financial assistance to local government to ensure councils can respond more effectively to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) President Linda Scott said last year’s decision to exclude local government representation from the National Cabinet was a lost opportunity to drive job growth and economic reform at the local level.
“Our Federal Government talks about national recovery, but in reality, it’s a recovery that will be made up of thousands of smaller local recoveries led by local governments in partnership with state and territory governments and the national government.”
She said local governments have increasingly taken a lead role in local and regional economic development, reflecting their on-ground presence and expertise.
“To make the recovery lasting and effective, we need a stronger, more equal partnership between governments, we need greater investment in our local communities, and we need to empower our communities to make decisions about their own futures.
“With the COVID-19 vaccination rollout gathering pace, and with the emphasis now shifting to economic recovery, it is vital for the three tiers of government to be aligned to support and facilitate jobs creation and economic growth,” Cr Scott said.
“Local government needs to be at the national decision-making table so that the voice and concerns of our many diverse communities are heard and acted upon,” she said.
The National General Assembly of Local Government is the biggest annual gathering of elected members from Australia’s 537 councils.
The theme for this year’s event – Working Together for our Communities – reflects local government’s commitment to:
· Accelerating job creation and COVID-19 economic recovery;
· Building local capacity and capability for natural disaster resilience;
· Ensuring municipal services are delivered effectively and efficiently; and
· Helping provide solutions to the challenges facing all communities.
Councils provide direct employment for almost 2000,00 people and expend about $40 billion annually buying goods and services and supporting thousands of small and medium-sized business enterprises.
They also have responsibility for looking after more than 660,000km of roads, around 75 percent of Australia’s total road length.
“We can’t forget, however, that local government’s ability to support communities has taken a hit because of the drought, bushfires, COVID, and floods,” Cr Scott said.
Councils were denied financial assistance through JobKeeper and suffered significant revenue losses during the COVID lockdowns. Many have depleted their financial reserves to continue delivering the services their communities need and expect.
“Just as it has laid bare the limitations of our national government, COVID has also exposed the inadequacy of grant funding to local government,” Cr Scott said.
ALGA has consistently called on the Australian Government to increase funding for Financial Assistance Grants to a level of at least 1 percent of Commonwealth taxation revenue.
“An adequate level of assistance grants is essential for councils and their communities,” Cr Scott said.
“This year’s National General Assembly will rightly see an intensification of calls for financial sustainability for local government.
“We know our communities. We know the challenges they have faced, and we know what is needed to go forward,” Cr Scott added.
The NGA is being held from 20-23 June at the National Convention Centre, Canberra, starting with ALGA’s Regional Cooperation and Development Forum.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be among the speakers appearing at the event, along with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Local Government Minister Mark Coulton, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and the Shadow Ministers for local government and infrastructure, Jason Clare, and Catherine King.