ADDRESS TO QLD REGIONAL ORGANISATION OF COUNCILS ASSEMBLY - MOOLOOLABA - THURSDAY, 7 FEBRUARY 2019

2019 QLD REGIONAL ORGANISATIONS OF COUNCILS (ROC) ASSEMBLY

MOOLOOLABA QLD

THURSDAY, 7 FEBRUARY 2019
 
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It’s great to be back in Queensland meeting with representatives of your local councils.
 
I acknowledge the traditional owners the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of the Sunshine Coast, and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging
 
Thank you to CEO Greg Hallam and Mayor Mark Jamieson for the invitation to speak to you today.
 
I want to particularly note the great work being done this week by Townsville Council and Mayor Jenny Hill in dealing with severe flooding facing that community.
 
In addition, I note with appreciation the efforts of Western Qld Local Government Association councils helping their communities facing the ongoing drought.
 
We are indeed a nation of extremes.
 
I want to say at the outset that Labor has always seen our councils as a great partner for the Commonwealth Government whether dealing with crisis, disaster recovery or regional development.
 
A benefit of the ROC model is that it enables us to have a truly regional discussion – one that extends beyond the capital works program of any individual council.
 
Many councils, particularly in our regions, are facing financial pressure to meet an increased need to provide services; to maintain and upgrade existing community infrastructure and to plan for future needs and growth.
 

  • On the fringes of our major cities we have urban growth areas where councils are struggling to provide the infrastructure for booming growth.
  •  State Governments have shifted costs and burdens to local councils without compensation
  • Rate capping – whether imposed by a state government or promised as an election promise – has restricted council revenue raising.
  • There are also external shocks – natural disasters or the challenges with recycling and waste management which impose additional burdens on your organisations.

 
Councils through their peak organisation ALGA, are looking to the Commonwealth Government and to Financial Assistance Grants in particular to find additional funding to address the backlog of infrastructure maintenance and other pressing matters.
 
You are proposing a 1% share of Commonwealth taxation revenue.
 
This would amount to an annual $2 billion-plus FAGS top up from the Commonwealth.
 
In the current budget context is no small ask.
 
This would amount to a near doubling of the Commonwealth contribution to council funds. It is a huge ask in any circumstance.
 
I should also point out that the 1% ask ignores the myriad of other funding programs that benefit local government, including Roads to Recovery which has provided over $4.8 billion to councils since 2014.
 
It is an untenable ask when a large part of the burden is a direct result of State Government actions.
 
We understand that cost-shifting and rate-capping by State Governments is a major issue for councils.
 
In Queensland, you are fortunate that you have not been subject to rate capping, as have other state jurisdictions like NSW and Victoria.
 
In my view, the best way to approach this issue is to have an informed discussion with all parties at the table. 
 
That is the reason that I moved the following amendment to Labor’s National Platform at our recent National Conference to say:
 
“Labor will work with local, state and territory governments through COAG to improve the financial sustainability of local government.”
 
I know most councils have pushed back against these decisions but not always.
 
Recently I visited where the newly elected mayor told me with pride that he had just been elected on a platform of no rate increases. He had a long list of projects he was keen for me to fund. This may be a winning formula in a mayoral election. It is not a winning formula with us. 
 
Of course the actions of the Abbott – Turnbull and Morrison Governments have added to the pain.
 
The Coalition imposed a three-year indexation freeze on your Financial Assistance Grants funding from 2014 to 2017.
 
Labor campaigned against this freeze in the 2016 Federal Election. We opposed it every step of the way.
 
It was a big setback for councils.
 
Nearly $1 billion in lost funding was lost during the freeze including around $200 million from Queensland Councils.
 
In 2017, Labor announced it would bring forward a quarter of FAGs funding for 2017-18.
 
Labor understands that bringing forward FAGs funding provides cash flow flexibility for councils and the option to bring forward the negotiation of contracts and projects which can have the added advantage of stimulating local economies.
 
We also did this to head off concerns that the freeze would be extended.
 
At the time, the Minister had refused to rule this out.
 
I know ALGA was worried because they ran a campaign to ‘End the Freeze’.
 
Labor did not think the freeze was fair and I know that many councils had to post-phone projects and cut back on services.
 
It has been some time since FAGs grants were reviewed.
 
Much has changed since the formula for the distribution of these grants was established.
 
There have been calls from many councils for the funding formula to be reviewed.
 
When Labor was last in government, then Treasurer Wayne Swan commissioned a review of FAGs – but this 2013 review was never released by the LNP Government.
 
I’ve listened to calls for a new review.
 
My view is that it would be prudent for a future Labor government to review this existing report before proceeding to formulate another review.
 
I want to make some general remarks about Regional Economic Development and Labor’s plans to strategic economic growth projects in Queensland.
 
I’ve heard some silly remarks from Government Ministers about Labor’s commitment to regional funding.
 
Now you know that we have a strong track record in this area: the establishment of the Regional Development Australia Fund, the Region Community and Local Infrastructure Projects Fund and of course our strong commitment to councils and their role in regional development – we are the only party who commits to the Constitutional recognition of Local Government.
 
But we should also look forward not just backwards – there was no accident that Bill Shorten started 2019 in Queensland.
 
He travelled from town to town listening and making concrete commitments to economic projects.
 
Labor has already committed to invest around $5.8 billion in infrastructure and development in Queensland.
 
This includes $5 million to support the establishment of a new international internet submarine fibre cable link to the Sunshine Coast.
 
The submarine cable project, being led by the Sunshine Coast Council in partnership with the State Government, is forecast to create up to 864 new jobs and stimulate $927 million worth of new investment in Queensland.
 

  • $500 million to grade Queensland’s inland road network
  • $2.24 billion on the cross river rail project
  • $100 million on the port access road in Gladstone
  • $200 million on a hydro-electric power station for the Burdekin Dam
  • $100 million on water security and $75 million on port widening in Townsville
  • $25 million on power and water for Great Keppel Island
  • Health and hospital investments in Logan, Rockhampton, Townsville, And Cairns

 
This is just a snapshot and more than the Coalition has provided for regional development across the entire country in the last 4 years.
 
Finally, can I say something about grants programs for regions.
 
Labor has always supported our councils and our regions, and this will be the case in the future for the next Shorten Labor Government.
 
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss these and many other issues with you today.