I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, their Elders past and present.
I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are attending this conference and pay my respects to their Elders, and I extend this acknowledgement and welcome to all community leaders present today, young and old.
Thank you to Cr Linda Scott for the invitation to speak to you today.
I’m sorry I can’t be in Albury with you but with Parliament sitting today, I’m in Canberra instead
I’d like to also acknowledge the councillors from my own electorate who are at the conference – councillors from Wingecarribee, Shellharbour and Wollongong Councils.
I know that many of you have come from the drought affected areas of NSW and that this is one of the toughest challenges you are currently facing in your communities.
The recent rain in some drought affected areas is welcome but the problem is far from over.
The devastation of drought impacts hard on families and local businesses, and that impact flows through to councils who are in the front line of providing services.
I know that regional communities have been desperate for the promised one million in Federal funding to flow to the 34 NSW councils that are eligible and that last week – two months after the announcement – funding is finally being delivered.
I have to note that it is disappointing that some councils that are dealing with drought were excluded from this support.
Bega Council have told me of their frustration in being excluded when their region is classified as facing very severe drought.
Many councils, particularly in our regions, are facing financial pressure and the most recent rate rises announced by IPART caps rate rises at 2.7%, just keeping pace with the Local Government Cost Index.
Understandably, councils are increasingly looking to the Commonwealth Government and Financial Assistance Grants to find funding to address your backlog of infrastructure maintenance and other pressing matters.
For rural and regional councils, this FAGs funding is the bedrock of your financial capacity.
Labor recognises that local government needs certainty around FAGs funding.
I know the three-year FAGs freeze, although now ended, was a setback.
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.
From our calculations, that council funding freeze by the Morrison Government, saw NSW councils lose around $260 million.
That’s a lot of community infrastructure put on hold.
Altogether 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.
It has been some time since FAG were reviewed.
I know that much has changed since the formula for the distribution of these grants was established.
When Labor was last in government, then Treasurer Wayne Swan commissioned a review of FAGs – but this 2013 review was never released by the Abbott 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 with another review.
I know that one of the big issues facing councils is the collapse of the recycling market with China.
Recycling has gone from being a source of income to a cost for councils.
We are now facing the urgent need to develop new waste management industry.
We know waste has a value – the challenge is how to develop a coherent response that addresses the complexities of the issue.
We need to look at the level of recycled content in packaging including imported products, to ensure a market for our recycling.
This is a complex issue and one that requires all levels of government to work together towards a better framework.
In the meantime, the worst thing that could happen would be for our recycling efforts to stall and falter.
Councils are leading the way on many environmental issues that are so critical for our future and I urge you to continue these efforts.
They are so important to a sustainable future.
In conclusion, I want to confirm the commitment of Labor to local government.
Labor respects and supports local government’s aspiration to be a 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 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 Labor’s national agenda.
Labor sees local government as an equal partner.
You are the level of government closest to our communities and you are best placed to understand their needs and know what needs to be done.
You have the expertise and accountability to drive the best outcomes.
Your work is important to building a better future.
I hope through this conference that you find renewed purpose and resolve to continue this important mission.