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The Chips are High, Time to Double Down

Weekly column from Council Courier e-newsletter by Acting CEO Sarah Buckler, Friday 12, May 2017.

At the close of a week marked with some significant financial wins for local governments through the Federal Government Budget, the LGAQ has resisted the temptation to bask in the afterglow but instead has doubled down its efforts to secure increased funding for the sector. Knowing only too well the perils of fiscal cycles, building back following some historical lows in both Federal and State spheres remains our priority.

Today, we have set the State Budget firmly in our sights, stepping up to the Queensland Government table by submitting to the Treasurer his opportunity to help us continue our lucky, albeit not 'pot-luck' streak.

The LGAQ’s 2017-18 Queensland Government Budget Submission on behalf of Local Government sets out a range of initiatives we are seeking funding support for, in areas where we believe there is an opportunity for genuine partnerships and mutual benefit. Since being elected, the relationship between local government and the Palaszczuk government has been very constructive and fruitful for both.

The 2016-17 Budget injection by the Palaszczuk government for programs delivered by local government has already had tangible effect in improving the lives of Queenslanders across across the state and we are keen to build on this momentum. The Works for Queensland program is an excellent example of where continued funding is being sought and one that can clearly demonstrate councils’ capacity to deliver value for money and their ability to influence job creation and community building. We are advocating for this to be continued and expanded.

As the level of government closest to the community, strong local employers, and reliable drivers of regional economies, the need for local government to have reliable and sustainable revenues are critical. Decisions to freeze indexation on Financial Assistance Grants, or to halve road funding, whether it be State or Federal leaves local governments exposed and vulnerable when being asked to demonstrate long term financial sustainability.

Raising only 3% of total government taxes, the way funding is delivered and incentivised, the certainty of the amount and the type is critical to address long term infrastructure planning, asset management and sustainability.  Moving away from the uncertainty of this annual cycle is critical in achieving this so it is somewhat ironic that while the focus this week has been on the luck of the draw through the budget cycle, the LGAQ also presented to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee Parliamentary Hearing on the long-term financial sustainability of local governments.

The LGAQ highlighted to the Committee that over the past 15 years, Queensland government funding to local government went from a high of about $580 million in 2008-09, to a low of $160 million in 2014-15. The Federal Government’s freeze on Financial Assistance Grants indexation cost Queensland councils an estimated $150 million over the past 3 years – noting that the Federal Budget has now restored this arrangement. The quantum and the variability of these movements is a major contributor to the uncertainty faced by local government.

With access to only property based taxes and charges as its main income source, these unplanned deficits that can be left through budget cycles cannot be simply resolved through increases in revenue sources that are constrained by an individual’s capacity to pay. Ensuring this is well understood to Federal and State governments, is central to all LGAQ’s advocacy.

It was pleasing therefore to see that a longer-term view was high on the agenda at the LGAQ’s Disaster Management Conference as we discussed moving to funding a new upfront model scheduled for implementation in July 2018.

Recognising that we need to do this better, in a more holistic and integrated way was the clear desire as many of our mayors, councillors and senior council staff descended upon Mackay to join with representatives from key state government agencies involved in the delivery of Queensland’s Disaster Management System.

The three-day Local Government Disaster Management Conference, served as not just an opportunity to learn from the recent experience of Tropical Cyclone Debbie but to discuss future policy levers and funding arrangements.

Signing of the 2017-2020 Disaster Management Alliance between the LGAQ and the State Government, through Queensland Fire and Emergency Services was a highlight and committed the two levels of government to an ongoing relationship built on mutual engagement.

These relationships will be key as we move forward, where local government is recognised as a genuine partner in all that we do, not simply another stakeholder wanting a hand-out. We need to turn the tables and make sure that our long-term viability and sustainability is not so dependent upon an annual game of budget roulette. And you can bet your lucky stars, or numbers, the LGAQ will continue to lead this charge.

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