Jun 25, 2018

Private Members’ Business – Local Government – Monday, 25 June 2018

Federation Chamber
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:56): Indeed, the week after we had the Australian Local Government Association here in Canberra, it is somewhat ironic that the member for Mackellar has brought forward a motion to this parliament supporting the role of local government. What used to happen when the Australian Local Government Association gathered here, when I was the minister for local government, was that we would have them meet with the entire cabinet, as well as members of parliament, and we would have discussions with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the finance minister, as well as the local government minister and people directly involved. They would meet for two days, with a function in the evening which would involve every single mayor and shire president around the country, regardless of what their politics were.

This was an initiative that was welcomed by local government, and in spite of some reticence, it must be said, from some of my colleagues when it was proposed. They recognised that it was extremely valuable to get that direct input here in Canberra over that period of time. We also created the Centre of Excellence for Local Government to drive best practice. We created the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, whereby every single council in the country benefited, including—in the council which the member for Mackellar spoke about—the upgrade around Narrabeen Lakes, the upgrade around the Manly foreshores, and the upgrade of the cricket pavilion at Manly in the electorate of Warringah.

We actually delivered infrastructure funding for communities, not just in marginal electorates as electoral fodder, but in every electorate around the country. We treated local government with respect. That’s why we wanted to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution. To give credit where its due, Barnaby Joyce strongly supported that, as the then federal shadow minister for local government. But the Liberals we couldn’t get across the line to recognise and enshrine respect for local government so that they didn’t exist solely at the whim of state governments, who now can cut their funding and can amalgamate councils without any reference to the actual constituents.

That’s what happened to my council, the Inner West Council. Three effective local governments in Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield were amalgamated without any reference to the voters whatsoever. Indeed, we had an appointed administrator of that council, elected by nobody—no previous involvement in local government—who was effectively a dictator for the Inner West for 18 months before elections were held. That was of course under the New South Wales Liberal government, of which Mr Falinski, the member for Mackellar, is of course a great supporter.

This motion also supports the Black Spot Program, which we support, but there’s a 33 per cent underspend in that program. It mentions the Bridges Renewal Program but doesn’t mention that there’s a 53 per cent underspend in that program. It also mentions the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative. What it doesn’t mention though is that 85 per cent of that funding flows after 2023. So it will be this term, the next term and really even most of the term after that before all but 15 per cent of that funding flows.

I am a genuine supporter of local government. I think that local government, as an area of government that is closest to local communities, can play a great role in determining what the priorities of those local communities are. That’s why, under our program, the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, projects had to be nominated by local government. Under this government’s regional program, a few cabinet ministers sitting in a corner—three cabinet ministers—get to determine where all the funding went. There is no reference to the community whatsoever. Local government deserve proper respect. They deserve the sentiments in this motion, but they deserve much better from this government.