Local councils lobby for seat at National Cabinet table

By Melissa Coade

Monday June 21, 2021

If Closing the Gap's Implementation Plan is carried out, there’ll be no more Canberra-centrism, but a genuine shift to partnership with Indigenous groups.
If Closing the Gap’s Implementation Plan is carried out, there’ll be no more Canberra-centrism, but a genuine shift to partnership with Indigenous groups. (Image: Adobe/mistrust in government)

With economic recovery from COVID-19 in full swing, it is now time for ‘all three tiers of government’ to work together, municipal leaders say.

Representatives from the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) will be meeting in Canberra this week to petition the federal government to reinstate their seat at the National Cabinet. 

According to ALGA president Linda Scott, a decision made last year to cut out the voice of local government from the national cabinet was a lost opportunity to pursue a local level reform agenda.

“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,” 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.”

The ALGA is calling for the federal government to bump its financial assistance grants by at least 1% of commonwealth taxation revenue. 

The group says that federal grant funding is inadequate in light of the fact that many councils have ‘depleted their financial reserves to continue delivering the services their communities need and expect’ through COVID. 

They also point to employment figures that show local councils provide direct employment to nearly 200,000 people and yet were still ineligible for JobKeeper payments, as well as suffering major revenue losses during state-imposed lockdown periods

“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,” Scott said.

“An adequate level of assistance grants is essential for councils and their communities.”

Scott added she would also be taking other requests on behalf of the municipal leader group to the federal government, including that the commonwealth help them respond to the social and economic challenges with extra funding.

Between them, the group of Australia’s 537 councils spend approximately $40 billion each year for goods and services, supporting thousands of local SMEs. They also have responsibility for upkeep of more than 660,000 kilometres of road (about 75% of the nation’s total road length).

“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,” Scott said. 

Members from Australia’s local councils will met in Canberra this week for the national general assembly of local government. There they will address a range of COVID-19 recovery themes including accelerating job creation, the efficient delivery of municipal services, and strengthening council capacity to respond to natural disasters. 

Prime minister Scott Morrison, deputy Michael McCormack and local government minister Mark Coulton will be speaking at the conference. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, and shadow ministers for local government and infrastructure Jason Clare and Catherine King will also make an appearance. 

“We know our communities. We know the challenges they have faced, and we know what is needed to go forward,” Scott said. 

“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.”

 

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