Mayoral Column 5 July 2024

Published on 05 July 2024

2024 Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) National General Assembly (NGA)

This edition of the Mayoral column comes to you from the national capital, Canberra, where CEO, Scott Barber and I are attending the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) 2024 National General Assembly (NGA). 

This event brings together the 537 Local Government Councils from around Australia to be informed, discuss and debate the issues relevant to Local Government, as well as hear addresses from politicians, bureaucrats and other sources with information relevant to what Local Government does.

One thing all Councils agree on, and ALGA supports, is an improved method of funding of Councils, with the ongoing ask being for 1% of gross tax revenue allocated directly to Councils from the Federal Government in untied grants through the Federal Assistance Grants Scheme (FAGS).

In the 2021/22 Federal Budget, the FAGS was 0.67% of gross tax revenue, but in the current 24/25 Federal Budget, the allocation has dropped to 0.5%.  Put simply, at a time where costs continue to escalate, Councils are going backwards financially and more and more pressure is being placed on all Councils to deliver community expectations with less money. 

There has also been much discussion around the inefficiencies of the grants processes, where Councils effectively jostle against each other in grant writing competitions just to get the funding they need to improve community infrastructure. 

Whilst I’m pleased that Swan Hill Rural City Council has recently had some success in attracting additional funding, the funding delivery method is definitely not the most efficient.

On a more positive front, we have made great strides in addressing the  housing shortages in our municipality.  We have heard from several other Councils from around Australia who have taken a similar approach to us with innovative ideas to increase local housing supply, recognizing that housing availability is one of the key drivers to addressing workforce shortages.

Locals who are passionate about addressing some of our region’s needs, kicked off meetings this week to explore potential investment models and a housing needs analysis.  I thank them for their commitment to helping solve this ongoing problem.

Whilst in Canberra, the Murray River Group of Councils (MRGC), of which Swan Hill Council is a member, were part of a press conference with Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, and NSW Senator and Shadow spokesperson for Water, Perin Davey, to continue to highlight to the Federal Government that open market water buybacks will be disastrous for regional communities. 

The legislation has now passed to take more irrigation water out of productive use, so through the MRGC, we are advocating for Councils and communities to be involved in the conversation of how this is done to ensure the best outcomes for regional communities who will be impacted by these decisions.  We also met with the senior advisor to Water Minister Tanya Plibersek to outline our concerns.

As part of the gathering is the debate on motions which will shape ALGA policy and advocacy on topics such as financial sustainability, roads and transport, housing, waste, and the Environment.  Whilst there hasn’t been anything too controversial thus far, we will see what happens on motions that pitch metro ideology against rural practicality!

Another important aspect of the gathering is the opportunity to network with other councillors from across the nation to share ideas and find ways to continue to improve processes and service delivery, and most importantly enhance outcomes, for our community.

In other relevant news, the Victorian Electoral Commission has now locked in the local government election timeline for later this year. More information will be shared soon but the important date for prospective councillors is the close of nominations at 12 Noon on Tuesday 17 September.