21 June 2022

Inland rail, housing and federal grants all on the agenda as councils gather in Canberra

| Chris Roe
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Eurobodalla Shire Councillor Anthony Mayne (right) with keynote speaker Stan Grant at the national assembly of local government. Photo: Anthony Mayne.

About a thousand mayors and councillors from across the country have gathered in Canberra this week for the annual national assembly of local government.

Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout said there was a positive energy around the three–day gathering.

“It’s a good opportunity to do a number of things,” he explained.

“You pick up on the national trends with all the motions that have been put up and there’s all the discussion around that.

“We also see which direction the Federal Government is intending to go through hearing a range of speakers.”

High on Wagga City Council’s agenda was a motion calling for more community consultation about the impact of the multibillion-dollar Inland Rail project.

“We put up a late motion in regards to inland rail and just ensuring that there was a touch point in the Federal Government in regards to livability type things that Inland Rail keep telling us are out of scope for their project,” he said.

“It actually received unanimous support and that allows ALGA (the Australian Local Government Association) to have someone in place so communities can go to this Federal Government touchpoint and work out what things can be resolved, whether it’s noise or speed or trains or level crossings or raising or lowering the line etc.”

READ ALSO Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout loves the job but he’s not sure about the hat

Eurobodalla Shire Council only recently rejoined ALGA and Councilor Anthony Mayne said it had been great to gather with other local government areas.

“This is a really important platform for local council to get its voice through to the Federal Government,” he said.

Getting a seat at the federal table has been high on the ALGA agenda after local government was excluded when COAG was replaced by a National Cabinet in 2020.

The new Labor Government has pledged to rectify this and Cr Mayne said there was a strong commitment to see this through.

“We’ve heard from Minister Kristy McBain, who was the former mayor of Bega Council, and she’s here now as the Minister for Regional Development and Local Government,” he said.

With his own shire still in recovery mode following the Black Summer fires, he said this dialogue with the Commonwealth was vital.

“We have to deal with natural disasters as Lismore has done this year and Bega and Eurobodalla had to do through the Black Summer fires,” he said.

“In growing our resilience around telecommunications, infrastructure etc. It all lives and breathes at the local regional level and that really is a key role that councils have to play.”

Despite the broad cross-section of local government representatives from more than 500 councils, there are many shared concerns.

A motion was put forward to have the Financial Assistance Grants reinstituted to one per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue.

According to ALGA, the value of grants provided to local government has declined over the past three decades to around 0.55 per cent.

“That really has an impact on the council’s ability to deliver services and to care for its community, especially in these really challenging times with fires and floods,” Cr Mayne said.

READ ALSO Scars are healing as volunteers breathe life back into Eurobodalla’s landscape

One of the the biggest issue on the table has been housing. Wagga’s Dallas Tout said it’s an issue they were all grappling with.

“Every community in the entire country has a housing crisis,” he said.

“That’s across the whole range, whether it’s social housing, affordable housing, residential development, the whole wide range of housing.

“The shortage of housing and also a shortage of particular types of housing and the shortage of funding.”

When asked if the apparent pothole crisis that is dominating councils’ social media across the country had come up, Cr Mayne gave a knowing smile.

“Not potholes per se,” he said.

“But we know that transportation is so important. It’s a big, big country and a big job to look after all those roads. It’s so expensive, and we’ve seen the damages.

“So yes, it’s a hot topic and it’s key to any number of those councils.”

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