Sep 18, 2008

Questions without Notice – Local Government

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE – Local Government

Mr TREVOR (Flynn) (2:36 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Will the minister outline for the House the importance of partnering with local government to meet the infrastructure needs of local communities?

Mr ALBANESE(Grayndler) (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Flynn for his question and for his interest in these issues, the latest instance of which was his hosting of my visit to Gladstone just last week. Today the Prime Minister announced that the government will forge a new partnership with local government, that level of government that is often closest to our communities. That partnership will begin with the inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Governments here in November. We are bringing local government into the heart of the national government, right here in Parliament House. And we are fulfilling a Labor election commitment—another Labor election commitment being fulfilled by this government—because in recent times there has been a disengagement between the Commonwealth and local government.

Today we set a new direction. Today we give communities a real voice in the nation’s future—a future that is based upon respect for and recognition of the important role that local government plays as the third tier of government, not just in providing local roads and bridges but, most importantly, in terms of service delivery, libraries, child care, environmental and health services, which is why the government is committed to taking steps to recognise local government in the nation’s Constitution. That is why we will establish next year the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.

The government recognises that infrastructure is critical to our economic prosperity, and that is why we have a whole-of-government approach. We have established Infrastructure Australia and the Building Australia Fund for nationally significant infrastructure. But we also recognise that local community infrastructure is also important for quality of life, regardless of where Australians live, whether it be in regional communities or in our cities, whether it be in the area of the Brisbane City Council, which has a million people in a growing community, or whether it be in the Shire of East Pilbara, which takes in some 378,000 square kilometres in some of the most remote parts of Australia. That is one of the reasons why already, this year, in the budget, we have delivered record assistance to local government—some $1.9 billion in financial assistance grants. That is why we have extended the Roads to Recovery program for another five years and increased funding by one-quarter of $1 billion over that period of time.

Today’s announcement has been worked through with the Australian Local Government Association, in meetings that I have had as local government minister, with the various state and territory local government associations, with individual councils—and all of them have said to us, ‘Why is it that in the past we have not had that direct relationship?’ Well, we are going to give them that direct relationship, beginning with a meeting to be attended by all of the government ministers here in Parliament House, one which will enable us to move forward in this new partnership, today forging that missing link in our federation in terms of the reform that is necessary.