ADDRESS TO ALGA NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, Ngunawal people, their elders past and present.  I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are attending this event and pay my respects to their elders, and I extend this acknowledgement and welcome to all community leaders and guests present today, young and old.
 
I’d like to acknowledge and thank Mayor David O’Loughlin and the board of ALGA for the invitation to address you and for our ongoing dialogue.

  • Marianne Saliba – Mayor of Shellharbour
  • Gordon Bradbery – Mayor of Wollongong Council and his colleagues Leigh, Cameron, Janice and CEO David Farmer;
  • Graham and Gordon from Wingecarribee Shire Council

Around $50 billion in Financial Assistance Grants has been provided by the Commonwealth to Local Government since the Whitlam Government introduced these in 1974–75.  This acknowledged the important contribution of local government to our civic life: a contribution that is not equally matched by your ability to raise revenue.  Then, as now, Labor sees local government as a partner.
 
A partner in our challenge to provide important basic services to our communities
 
A partner in our challenge to improve the amenity of your streets, towns and suburbs.
 
A partner in your aspiration to build a better future for your residents.
 
Labor sees local government as the best partner in our regional development project.
 
Councils have the resources, expertise and accountability to drive the best outcomes.  When Labor was last in government, we looked to local government as a key partner to keep our economy moving and our trades in work.  A future Labor government will again be looking to partner with local government, RDAs and groups of councils again in this great project to build a better future.
 
Financial Assistance Grants funding is the bedrock of your financial capacity.   Labor recognises that local government needs certainty around Financial Assistance Grants.   I know the Financial Assistance Grants freeze, although now ended, was a shock and a setback to local government.
 
I welcome the Government’s move in the recent Budget to again bring forward half of the funding this financial year.   It doesn’t make up for the nearly $1 billion in lost funding during the freeze – but this measure helps your cash flow and helps you to get started on your forward programs.
 
Local Councils are elected to represent every Australian.  You employ around 134,000 people and contribute 2 per cent to Australia’s GDP.   That is why Labor respects and supports local government’s aspiration to be recognised in Australia’s Constitution.  Constitutional recognition of local government remains a Labor policy in our National Platform.
 
It will remove any doubt about the ability of the Federal Government to directly fund local government and deal with the uncertainty about our capacity to partner with you.  Constitutional recognition will find its place in our national agenda.
 
I know that one of the key issues facing you today is to do with the collapse of the recycling market.  Recycling has gone from being a source of income to being a cost for councils.  There’s considerable pressure on local government to lead the discussion.
 
The totality of the supply chain system needs to be examined.   We need to be smart about it – it isn’t just recycling but also packaging, disposability.  Councils are facing the tough option of how to manage this situation.  There are no easy answers.
 
You have told me that landfill is the cheapest – but worst option.  The landfill option is not without a cost, both financially and environmentally.  We are now facing the urgent need to develop new waste management industry.  This issue needs a solution that benefits the greater regions you operate in and that meets the needs of today and of the future.
 
We know waste has a value – the challenge is how to develop a coherent response that addresses the complexities of the issue.
 
There’s another issue that I hear a lot about – communications technology.  Labor’s NBN project was supposed to address these issues but, nearly ten years later, we are spending a lot of money but the problems we set out to fix aren’t going away.  There’s no doubt that the NBN has improved things in many places.  But the issue of the adequacy of connectivity is a live one that needs more work.
 
Instead of arguments about cost and technology, the real question we should be asking is whether we have a broadband network that is fit for purpose?   Do we have the technology that is needed, not just to get us to 2020, but to get us to 2030, 2040 and beyond.
 
Many councils are moving towards harnessing the benefits that technology can bring to drive efficiency and improved service delivery through data collection and analysis.  Smart cities are those that use the latest technology and urban design techniques to deliver on three key objectives – productivity, sustainability and liveability.   There is a strong appetite from councils to harness the benefits of the digital economy.   We need to ensure that everyone reaps the benefits from advancements in technology.
 
Many councils have taken advantage of the government’s Smart Cities program.  However, this important transformation needs to be more than a one-off program.  What is missing is a unifying framework at a national level to facilitate a genuine smart cities agenda.  Labor believes we need a national urban policy to drive any smart cities agenda.
 
That’s why my colleague, Anthony Albanese, has recently announced that a Federal Labor Government would embed a Smart Cities agenda in a National Urban policy.  This policy builds on the legacy of the previous Labor Government’s ‘Our Cities, Our Future’ policy – Australia’s first ever comprehensive national urban policy.  Labor’s approach will not just be about our major capitals but also our important regional cities.
 
I’d like to say something about the importance of women in Australia’s political life.  I know that David spoke about the importance of diversity to strengthen the local government sector this morning.   I agree with him on this.
 
ALGWA has a very important job in supporting women in local government and calling for much needed change.  I congratulate the women here for stepping up and putting yourselves forward to represent your communities.  This is no easy task. I know from first-hand experience the hard work and diligence required.  What is hard for men is doubly hard for women.
 
Labor believes that no guarantee of prosperity, of fairness, of the fair go all round can be complete without the equal treatment of women in our society.  There’s a lot of work to do: close the gender pay gap, make domestic violence a memory, achieve equal opportunities in leadership and boardrooms.  We need to ensure that women from all backgrounds, our first Australians right through to our migrants, right through to women who live in the bush are a part of our political representation, at all levels.
 
Labor believes that gender should not be a predictor of disadvantage or unfairness.  This work will be done when we are truly a nation which sees women treated equally as men.   We have had some success.
 
Labor now has 41 per cent of women in its caucus.  Gender diversity has improved the culture of Federal Labor and it can improve the culture of local councils.
 
Back in 1951, just one per cent of councillors were women.  Currently, just around 33 per cent of Australian councillors are women.  With the right support we can and will do better.
 
Local government is often an entry point for State and Federal Parliament.  Twenty four current Federal MPs started their political lives in local government including 5 former Prime Ministers. 
 
Gender equity is a key issue for political parties.  I look forward to working with you on this agenda.
 
I also know my colleague, Anthony Albanese, has spoken to many of you about the lack of new funding for infrastructure in the most recent Budget.  According to Albo, the Budget is a con job - a triumph of spin over substance.
 
The Budget did not include any new funding for infrastructure.  The Government is pretending something very different.  For Labor, it’s not just about the dollars – but also the community dividend.
 
That’s why a future Labor Government will place more conditions on Federal infrastructure grants to States and Territories to secure public interest outcomes such as more training of apprentices and better work opportunities for mid-tier construction firms.  The role of Infrastructure Australia will be expanded with new conditions in areas like procurement, training and sustainability.  Labor would also require, where appropriate, that designs for new roads to incorporate smart technology.
 
Labor believes that better planning delivers better outcomes.  Our governments need to work together to achieve the best outcomes for our communities.  We need to work together to ensure we are driving efficiencies – but also to ensure we are responding to local challenges.
 
In closing , I want to repeat my main message to you.  Labor sees local government as a partner.
 
A partner in our challenge to provide important basic services to our communities.  A partner in our challenge to improve the amenity of our streets, towns and suburbs.  A partner in our aspiration to build a better future for our people.
 
I hope to have the opportunity to work with you – as partners – in the near future.
 
ENDS