Nov 17, 2008

Address to Welcome Dinner: Australian Council of Local Govt

Address to Welcome Dinner: Australian Council of Local Government

November 17 2008

Great Hall, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government,

Leader of the House,

Federal Member for Grayndler

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

And welcome to the very first Australian Council of Local Government.

There are more than 400 elected local government leaders here.

We have the smallest council here, and the largest.

Many of you have travelled thousands of kilometres to be here – from the Torres Strait to the Bass Strait; from Broome to Ballina; from Playford to Palmerston.

And the significance is not lost on us.

That’s why there are Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Members and Senators here from the Rudd Government, including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Many of my State and Territory Ministerial Colleagues are also here.

We also have former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe in the audience tonight.

And Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is on a flight back from the G20 Summit as we speak so he can join us tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow, we begin a new era of cooperation – local government and federal government working together to improve the quality of life in our communities.

Local government is the level of government closest to the community.

Every year, councils and shires are responsible for more than $22 billion of expenditure on infrastructure and services.

Our local councils employ more than 168,000 people.

They are responsible for more than half a billion kilometres of road – enough to circumnavigate the globe 16 times.

The Rudd Government understands that if Australia is to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, then improving the way we are governed and strengthening the bonds between our two levels of government is essential.

That is why the buck passing, rivalry and lack of cooperation between all levels of government must end. It has limited Australia’s ability to build a modern economy capable of meeting the challenges of the future.

It is in this spirit that we start the first historic meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government tomorrow.

We want to take our level of partnership to the next level, and provide better infrastructure and services for all Australians.

To do this, we need to be in the same room, working side by side.

Our commitment to working together with you goes back a long way.

On two occasions, in 1974 under the Whitlam Government and again in 1988 under the Hawke Government, the Commonwealth tried to give Constitutional recognition to local government.

And the Rudd Government is on the record committing to a process towards Constitutional recognition.

It was the Whitlam Government that first decided to give untied funds to local government starting with $56 million in Financial Assistance Grants in 1974-75.

Today the Rudd Government is delivering nearly $1.9 billion a year directly to local government.

In addition, $1.75 billion will be provided through Roads to Recovery over the next five years.

But we understand the enormous challenges that councils face in providing the infrastructure and services that local communities expect.

The federal government faces the same challenges.

We are all dealing with a decade of infrastructure neglect and growing demand for services.

To this end, we will be making practical announcements tomorrow to underline the seriousness of our commitment – in particular through the regional and local Community Infrastructure Program.

But tonight we are also here to recognise the achievements of Australia’s leading councils through the National Awards for Local Government.

In 1986, these awards were established 22 years ago by Tom Uren, the then Minister for Local Government, to provide an opportunity to reflect on the crucial role local governments play in improving the lives of ordinary Australians.

At the time, I was proud to be Tom’s policy adviser. Not for one minute did I think that 22 years later, I would be the one presenting the Awards here tonight.

I pay tribute to Tom’s foresight in establishing these awards as well as his role in Financial Assistance Grants.

Tonight’s winners have demonstrated innovation and best practice in providing community infrastructure, taking action to combat climate change, building youth facilities and running education campaigns.

Earlier tonight, I honoured the category winners and those receiving commendations as part of the National Awards for Local Government.

In a few minutes, we will be announcing the six councils who are the overall national winners.

For the first time, the National Awards will be presented to local government in front of a large audience of their peers.

These councils’ projects have been judged by an independent panel to be national leaders in their fields.

And I would like to thank the National Judging Panel, and in particular its Chair, Jim Soorley, for their commitment.

I also want to acknowledge Paul Bell, President of the Australian local Government Association, for his leadership and support in bringing together the Australian Council of Local Government.

I hope you enjoy tonight’s proceedings. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible tonight and tomorrow.

Thank you.