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2017 Bush Councils Convention Presidential Address

The following was delivered by LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam on behalf of LGAQ President Mayor Mark Jamieson in Charters Towers for the 2017 Bush Councils Convention.

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Elders of the land on which we gather today – the Gudjal (pron: good-jal) peoples - and pay my respects to their leaders past and present for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of all Aboriginal people.

It is great to be with you today to open the 2017 LGAQ Bush Councils Convention.
The LGAQ is a broad church as they say, representing 77 councils across the length and breadth of Queensland.
So our representation and advocacy agenda is necessarily very diverse.
As you would expect it to be.
Given our membership spans from the largest local government in the Southern Hemisphere (Brisbane) to some of the most remote and isolated Councils in Western Queensland, Cape York and the Torres Strait.
But if there is one thing that brings our 77 councils together it is our shared commitment to creating greater prosperity and well-being for our communities.
And generating opportunities that will be of value to our residents today and to future generations.
I see that wherever I go throughout Queensland.
Since I became President of the LGAQ in October last year, I have made it a priority to get out and visit councils in their home patch.
In less than 12 months, I have visited about half of the 77 councils across Queensland.
If I haven’t visited you yet, it is only for want of time.
But I promise you, I will be coming your way in the very near future.
These visits are for me, about establishing connections with each of you and your communities.
That way I have a better understanding of the opportunities you are pursuing and the challenges you are managing.
And it gives me a much clearer perspective on how the LGAQ can best represent your interests.
Last week for example, I travelled across Cape York, visiting 11 Councils in four days.
Our colleagues on the Cape experience a range of challenges that do not confront many of the rest of us.
But wherever I went, I observed Councils passionately committed to the well-being of their communities and looking for opportunities that will create a stronger future for their residents.
As I said a moment ago, visiting each of you and your communities is about connections.
That is the theme of our Convention over the next few days – Cultivating Connectivity.
And as many of you would know, connectivity is a concept that is incredibly important to me.
In fact, it is more than just important.
It is a fundamental pre-condition to the sustainability of councils and the future prosperity of communities across Queensland.
You will recall I have made connectivity the centrepiece of my platform as President of the LGAQ.
And I did so because it was the common thread of the conversations I had had with Mayors and Councillors across Queensland since I was first elected as Mayor of the Sunshine Coast Council in 2012.
There can be nothing surer than the fact our future is very much dependent on connectivity.
You will also recall that I posed five focus areas for the LGAQ as part of our connectivity agenda:
1. Connected infrastructure.
2. Connections to markets.
3. Connecting to the digital economy.
4. Connecting to government and 
5. Connecting with each other. 
Again, every one of these focal points goes to the heart of improving the sustainability of Councils and providing opportunity for our communities.
No matter where they are in Queensland.
Our focus at the LGAQ is on getting these connections working, understanding and appreciating our differences and bridging the gap wherever possible.
And that is what we will work with you on over the course of the next three days – and indeed long afterwards.
Right now, connectivity for regional and rural communities across Australia could not be more paramount.
As we seek to take advantage of, and secure opportunities within, the global market place.
Regional and rural councils – and their communities - have a long and proud history of punching above their weight when it comes to driving the national economy and shaping the policy agenda.
Let’s look at a few points for just a moment.
Regional Australia accounts for about one-third of national output. 
Regional Australia contributed around half of our nation’s growth post GFC - clearly demonstrating its role as a source of resilience for the economy. 
And historically, Australia’s economy was grown on the back of core primary industries whose roots lie in regional Australia.
Without a doubt, each of your councils and the communities you represent should be well recognised as an integral part of the nation’s economic and social fabric.
And I have no doubt I am probably preaching to the converted in this room!
But economies and communities are changing.
They are evolving at a rate that is unparalleled in human history.
Technology and digital disruption are no longer a new phenomenon.
They are a fact of daily life and they present opportunities and challenges for us all.
The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia forecasts that automation could eliminate up to 40% of current jobs in Australia within the next 15 years.
But also create jobs and business opportunities that currently do not exist. 
Central to our connectivity agenda and as leaders of our communities we must therefore confront the question - should we just let change happen? 
Or should we be preparing our communities for a different, disrupted, digital future? 
It is our belief now is the time for the regions and bush councils to capitalise on their strengths.
On that history of tenacity, resilience and adaptability – to grasp the opportunities that lay before us.
If we don’t spread the benefits of innovation and encourage a more dispersed population growth pattern, our cities will become overheated and housing unaffordability will choke off the supply of labour. 
Innovation and entrepreneurialism need to be encouraged right across Queensland so the regions can participate in the knowledge based, digital economy.
At the LGAQ, we see a critical role in assisting you – our members – navigate the global shift brought about by automation and technological change. 
To this end, we have taken the decision to make a major investment in our own operations to better support councils and their connectivity with global markets, the digital economy and each other.
At the LGAQ Annual Conference in October, we will launch one of our biggest and most ambitious projects ever. 
That project – which we call Sherlock – is all about keeping Councils ahead of the game.
Relying on the opportunities afforded by big data, data analytics and blockchain technology, Sherlock will seek to analyse the massive amounts of local government data that currently exists and continues to grow as more devices are connected online. 
It will identify patterns and trends in this data and provide the insights on how your Council can adapt and better respond to the customer service expectations of your communities.
I won’t go too much further into this as it will spoil the surprise in October.  
But I hope I have said enough to entice you to take a closer look at the opportunities Sherlock will unlock for your Council when it is unveiled.
As I mentioned earlier Connectivity is also about infrastructure – how our communities function and connect with each other.
One of the more recent wins for councils in this area has been Works for Queensland.
Conceived in partnership between the State and local governments, Works for Queensland will deliver $400 million of infrastructure investment and create thousands of jobs. 
The LGAQ has pushed for the continuation of this program - and we will continue to do so.
Because we know that investment in public infrastructure is needed now to support the needs of our communities today and lay the foundations for successful knowledge-intensive regions in the future. 
In fact we have achieved some outstanding success through a number of partnerships with the Queensland Government which are very much about connecting councils to government and future proofing communities.
Some quick examples include:
  • Our two key climate change programs, Queensland Climate Resilient Councils and QCoast 2100, which are assisting councils to respond to climate change and prepare their communities. 
  • Collectively, 47 councils are now participating in these two programs.  
  • There is also the Queensland Water Regional Alliance Program.
  • Which as you would be aware is an industry-led initiative to investigate regional collaboration on water and sewerage services in regional Queensland. 
  • The program involves 25 participating councils and has delivered over $3 million in savings this year to Queensland councils. 
We never lose sight however, of our core responsibility to you to represent your interests to other levels of government and secure a fairer deal for Queensland councils.
As many of you would know, after a lot of hard-work and a concerted campaign, we won the battle this year to see a common-sense approach to Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, with wins on the eligibility of day labour and council plant and equipment. 
We have also facilitated a successful collaboration between the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the Crane Industry of Australia to increase local road access by close to 70%.
This will enable road trains to carry additional loads, including access to cotton areas.
This change is expected to reduce the overall number of trips by up to one-third and deliver transport savings to growers of between $1.4 and $2.1 million per season.
And we are determined to ensure the State Government's repositioned trade and investment strategy recognises the critical contribution of councils.
Both in encouraging local businesses to build their export capabilities and in providing new capital investment opportunities that provide a significant boost to the Queensland economy. 
With this in mind, we have this year committed interim funding of $185,000 a year over two years to kick start a range of trade and investment initiatives.
These are designed to leverage Trade and Investment Queensland’s resources and activities and drive greater connectivity for councils with global markets. 
See - that notion of connectivity is everywhere!
On that note, I would like to finish by setting a challenge for all of us at this Convention.
That we each find three opportunities either through making connections with other people, sharing ideas or through the line-up of speakers and workshops - that will help your Council to pursue its own prosperity agenda for your communities.  
With the array of speakers and networking opportunities we have on offer, that should be an easy task to fulfil.
I hope you enjoy the 2017 Bush Councils Convention and I look forward to catching up with you this afternoon. 
Thank you.

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