This week Australians will witness a historic meeting in Canberra between their national government and over 400 of the nation’s mayors and shire presidents.
The Rudd Labor Government understands that if Australia is to succeed and prosper in an increasingly competitive global economy, then reforming the way we are governed is essential.
Buck passing, rivalry and a lack of cooperation between our three levels of government has undermined Australia’s ability to build a modern economy capable of meeting the challenges of the future.
We recognise that maintaining national economic growth requires improved economic performance of every part of Australia – not just our capital cities and those areas fortunate enough to have large mineral deposits.
Local government – the level of government closest to the community – will be critical to the achievement of this national goal.
To achieve this, Australia needs a new partnership between its National Government and Local Government.
That’s why this Tuesday’s inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government is so important – it will mark the start of a new era for this vital relationship.
This gathering comes in the wake of the Prime Minister’s determination to make sure ministers do not just talk to each other in Canberra – and builds on the monthly Community Cabinet meetings which have seen ministers get out and visit communities around Australia including Penrith, Newcastle, Mackay, Launceston and Arnhem Land.
The Australian Council of Local Government will allow for regular dialogue between the Commonwealth and local communities on issues of national significance, including climate change; the growth of our cities; regional development; improving efficiency and financial sustainability of local government; and constitutional recognition for local government.
Local Government is a significant sector in our economy, employing 168,000 people and spending more than $22 billion a year building infrastructure and delivering services.
And the quality of local facilities – community halls, libraries, parks, swimming pools and roads – as well as services such as childcare and aged care affect all Australians where they live.
In our first Budget we provided Local Government with an unprecedented $1.9 billion in untied grants this year alone and a record $1.75 billion over the next 5 years to improve local roads.
This week’s meeting will also see the further development of the Rudd Government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. This initiative will help deliver the local infrastructure which has a direct impact on the quality of life within local communities.
The building of community infrastructure also creates local jobs and stimulates local economies, consistent with the Government’s determination to deliver continued economic growth through our economic security strategy.
We have made the development of nation building infrastructure a top priority and central to our economic agenda. We understand the critical role it plays in driving higher productivity and greater long term prosperity.
But this is not economic reform for its own sake; it is a means to an end.
We must never forget that the quality of our infrastructure impacts directly on the everyday lives of all Australians – it affects the prices they pay for fruit and vegetables at the local supermarket and it determines whether there is enough water for their garden and electricity to power their homes.
It is indeed a tragedy that because of urban congestion many working parents spend more time commuting to and from work than they do at home with their kids.
We are moving quickly to implement our agenda and begin fixing the infrastructure deficit we inherited, bringing forward the development of an Infrastructure Priority List to next month.
This will provide Government with independent advice on what the nationally significant infrastructure priorities should be over the next decade and beyond.
But ultimately nation building requires the active participation of all levels of government.
Australia must not only address past failures to adequately invest in rail, road, water, energy and communications infrastructure, but also in the delivery of local community infrastructure to our cities and regional communities.
The Australian Council of Local Government is about forging new and stronger partnerships between our two levels of government, with the aim of making our Federation work better for all Australians.
It’s about giving local communities a voice in the future of their country.