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Community & Business

28 July, 2023

Country mayors met at Parliament House to discuss key state issues

The Country Mayors Association of NSW recently held a general meeting at Parliament House in Sydney. The association discussed topics that are critical to servicing and managing the needs of communities across the state.

By Andrew Tarry - Local Government Reporter

The general meeting was attended by mayors and general managers from 65 shires as well as a considerable cohort of ministers and representatives from organisations such as the Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the Office for Local Government (OLG), and the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).

The meeting is one of the largest and most signifi- cant events for mayors and staff members of councils and provides an important opportunity for face-to-face deliberations and discussions on broad, complex issues.

Councillors acknowledged pressing issues like the housing crisis, the teacher and nurse shortages, water security, roads and infrastructure at the meeting and agreed that these problems require comprehensive and lengthy discussions to produce appropriate solutions.

Although councillors often meet in small groups through council alliances in different regions, or occasionally meet with state government ministers, the opportunities throughout the year to hold talks on such a scale are richly valuable.

It is important for communities, particularly remote and potentially isolated communities that their repre- sentatives are heard and given a platform to advocate for their constituents.

The meeting opened with an address and presentation from Cr Linda Scott, the president of the ALGA. According to the report of the meeting Cr Linda Scott informed the general meeting that councils are to receive $3.1 billion in Financial Assistance Grants over the next twelve months, but it is disappointing the government have not delivered on its pre-election promise for “fair increases.” At this stage there is a 75 per cent hole in Financial Assistance Grants which is not being filled. This could have a potentially significant impact on council budgets and their capacities for community developments in the future.

Cr Linda Scott then continued to highlight a number of areas where funding is being provided:

• Other budget funding was $484 million in Roads to Recovery funding.

• $200 million Thriving Suburbs Program (local gov- ernments eligible to apply).

• $150 million Urban Precincts and Partnerships Program (local governments eligible to apply).

• $120 million Black Spot Program.

• Additional $13.5 million round of the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program.

• $236 million over 10 years for flood warning infrastructure (rain gauges).

• $10 million for a national waste education cam- paign.

The president of the ALGA finished her presentation with a short discussion on the NSW Housing Affordability Reforms, while also speaking briefly on Growing Regions Grants, Disaster recovery Funding, New Bank Closure Protocols, and the National General Assembly which is scheduled to take place later in the year at Canberra.

The president of the LGNSW, Cr Darriea Turley spoke second. The president reiterated her recent state- ments regarding the state governments decision to stop subsidising the emergency services levy (ESL).

The president provided an update on the representa- tions that mayors and local government advocacy groups had made towards the state government regard- ing the levy.

Due the high quantity of mayors making their per- spective known to the state government about the issue, a review of the models is to be undertaken.

The report on Cr Turley’s presentation states that the president has requested that “councils to write to their local members and the minister”.

Cr Turley then delivered the rest of her report which “covered the Red Fleet Update and the IPART Review of Rate Peg Methodology NSW State Election, the Cost

Shifting Survey, the Federal Budget with NSW to receive $951.4 million in Financial Assistance Grants and other assistance with Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, Skills, Aged Care, Flood and River Gauges, Rental Assistance and Sustainable Urban Development.”

The president ended her presentation and ceded the floor to the variety of other speakers which were organ- ised for the event. The general meeting is usually host to several guests of which some provide presentations of their own.

This was the case as The Hon. Rose Jackson, The Hon. Jenny Aitchison MP, Dr Michael Holland MP, and Carmel Donnelly chair of IPART spoke to the assembly.

Ms Jackson held her inaugural address to the meet- ing and used her time to promote the importance of state and local governments working together. Her report to the meeting then focused on the following topic.

“Water authorities are aware that councils in region- al and rural areas are water utilities and need support through a partnership with the government and state water authorities, based on honesty to provide a more reliable water supply. The government wishes to lift the quality of town water supplies. Housing shortages par- ticularly housing for key workers needs to be addressed. If any council has land that can be developed for hous- ing please let’s talk.”

Ms Aitchison addressed the reclassification of roads that councils and state government have been negotiat- ing.

The MP continued by arguing that the “reclassifica- tions of roads is a great opportunity. Unfortunately, in 2019 it was unfunded, and, in some cases, councils have had to wait up to eight years for their reclassification”.

“Things have now moved on. Disaster recovery funding has changed the way councils are looking at reclassifications so, priorities are changing. The govern- ment wants to give councils the cash now rather than having to wait. The city was getting $5 for every $1 that the country was getting in road funding. This has now been addressed and regional NSW will be getting dou- ble what it is now plus emergency repair funds.”

Dr Holland spoke briefly on the “Rural Health Inquiry recommendations and the financial implica- tions. The health workforce is a high priority with the intention of employing 1200 additional nurses and 500 paramedics.”

Dr Holland then said that “the threat of workforce burnout is real, and a taskforce has been established and has commenced work looking at the needs of health staff. Access to health care has improved using technol- ogy in country areas.”

The final speaker of the meeting was Carmel Donnelly, chair of IPART, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. The chair generally informed the assembly of some of the submissions that have occurred this rating year before moving onto the submissions and feedback the tribunal has received from rate payers and councils.

This feedback “included abolishing rate pegging, [the] current model doesn’t support council financial sustainability; labour cost changes should be based on the Local Government Award”.

The chair then introduced the ratepayer submissions stating that they “included affordability and cost of liv- ing and council’s financial affordability, and council’s financial management and efficiency.”

One of the most difficult challenges is the actual affordability of rates. The chair argued that “residents have positive views about the services provided by councils”.

The report finished by mentioning that recent coun- cil technical workshop propose the rate peg should include change in base costs, population factor, ESL factor, productivity factor and other adjustments. According to the minutes of the meeting, IPART are looking at as options.

The meeting concluded with deliberation over some policy changes for the association, discussions over the launch of the website and concluding address by the chair. 

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