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Seminal road funding report released

The Productivity Commission’s landmark but damning report on the funding and provision of public infrastructure in Australia should have been a major news highlight of the week.  But Senate showdowns, carbon tax death throes, the most watched murder case in recent years and, dare I say it, the World Cup all conspired to keep it at the margins of public discussion.  That is a pity, because the Commission has produced a convincing case for root and branch reform of how public infrastructure projects are funded and delivered and its report _ all 807 pages of it _ deserves more attention than the couple of worthy appearances that a hectic 24 hour news cycle was able to give it.

To quote just one finding: “There are numerous examples of poor value for money arising from inadequate project selection, potentially costing Australia billions of dollars”.

Sobering stuff. But for local government, the report is doubly important in that it proposes major reforms to road funding. Specifically, it recommends that:

“The first step in a long-term transition to a more efficient and effective approach to the provision and funding of roads should be the establishment of Road Funds by state and territory governments. State governments, and local government associations, should actively encourage and support local governments to form regional Road Funds for networks of local roads”.

The Commission believes these road funds should ensure that the one entity integrate the tasks of road funding and provision, a reform it says will enable road charging and provision to be more effectively considered on a regional portfolio basis.

The report and what it says is certainly worthy of more than one blog post so stay tuned.



Road pricing: some thoughts

No peak body can allow the grass to grow under its feet these days.  Every one of them has to make sure they are responsive to their members’ needs as well as remain flexible, innovative and available to outside stakeholders, most especially government agencies.  That the LGAQ is no different is probably best illustrated by the more than 80 submissions it has made in the past six months in response to various policy developments, large and small, as well as several full scale public inquiries at both the state and federal level. That’s right, 80 submissions. Besides their primary intent of ensuring the interests of Queensland councils are heard by the policy decision makers in Canberra and George St, they also provide a valuable contribution to the wider public policy debate.

Take road pricing, for example.  The LGAQ’s submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into how public infrastructure should be funded. Naturally, given its importance to all its members, the LGAQ submission was most pointed on the issue of future funding for roads.  As the submission states, Queensland councils manage over 150,000 kms of road network and bridges, with an estimated value of $43 billion. More than a third of annual council budgets _ or about $2.7 billion a year _ goes to maintaining these assets.

So, with road pricing, the LGAQ argues that “all current taxes, charges, excises etc. collected from road users ostensibly for roads be hypothecated directly to road infrastructure managers at all levels of government according to their respective responsibilities for road assets”. Hypothecation _ that is, dedication of revenue raised from a tax to be spent on a particular purpose _ improves the connection between demand, costs and revenue and improves transparency and accountability.  It also makes the “politicisation’’ of the process of selecting roads projects more difficult.  The Commission has made clear it is concerned about such politicisation and is obviously on the hunt for solutions to it.

Have a look at the LGAQ’s recent submissions here.


All points north for development

Realising the economic potential of northern Australia has long been a political dream for successive national and state leaders.  So far it has remained just that despite report after report confirming that northern Australia’s mineral and pastoral wealth should be a much bigger contributor to the nation’s economic well-being than it is.

But it seems there’s now some sort of consensus emerging about the need to identify just what the north has to offer and concentrate on its strengths rather than dwell on its weakness of remoteness, extreme climate and sparse population.  A new North West Queensland Strategic Development Study has identified four priorities for development: new mine exploration and development, irrigated and intensified agriculture, the generation, security and export of energy and the supply chain productivity, efficiency and reliability.  The study is the work of the Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone groups made up of local councils and industry representatives. 

Premier Campbell Newman has hailed the study as showing bold new vision, adding that it “confirms that the north west is bursting with opportunities to improve transport, electricity and water storage to support new economic growth for Queensland in the future”. Water and where and how to store is also top priority for Cloncurry Mayor Andrew Daniels, who told the North West Star newspaper that large scale water storage infrastructure was the key to securing overseas investment in the north.

The study follows hard on the heels of the Federal Government’s new Northern Australia Green Paper, which focuses on boosting investment opportunities across the top of the nation. Mt Isa City Council has been particularly vocal in ensuring the Green Paper leads to good policy outcomes for the north.  Mt Isa Mayor Tony McGrady identified increases in zonal tax allowance, changes to policies involving fly-in, fly-out workforces and water availability as priority areas for debate.

And that's not all. In Townsville today and tomorrow, about 700 delegates will gather for a special northern development summit.  Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb is set to tell the gathering that the north has the potential to be a leading supplier for 50 percent of the world's population within 20 years

Disaster funding inquiry a closely watched show

The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the future of funding for natural disaster recovery is of understandably high interest for local councils in Queensland.  The terrible impact of recent natural disasters has been felt everywhere in Queensland, including in the state capital.  But the financial impact of ensuring communities get back on their feet following such events has been felt across the nation.  That is a key driver behind the decision to hold the commission’s inquiry.  No less than three of the five specific matters the commission needs to report and make recommendations on involve examination of some or other aspect of the costs of providing help following natural disasters.

Local councils in Queensland will need to battle the notion that the Commonwealth’s contribution to the formal Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements has become too expensive.  Both the National Commission of Audit and the Commonwealth’s National Reconstruction Inspectorate overseeing the rebuilding of Queensland's disaster-affected communities have said as much.

In its submission to the inquiry, the LGAQ has warned that any withdrawal of federal financial support would place an unmanageable burden on local communities affecting by future natural disasters.  The submission states: “There is a need for substantial ongoing funding for natural disasters from federal and state resources to sustain councils across Queensland. As a result of the vertical fiscal imbalance between the Commonwealth and states, the Commonwealth must continue to fund a large proportion of extreme events. “

The commission is due to release its draft report in September and will then hold hearings before making a final report in December.  It is certain to be one of the most closely watched inquiries impacting on local government in many years.

Editors note: In the July 4th edition of Council Courier the article 'Qld councils meet with productivity reps' contained an error. Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire was mistakenly referred to as Charters Towers Mayor. Apologies for this mistake.


Wild dog storm continues to swirl

By guest blogger Samantha Dean

They have ravaged the heart of drought-stricken Queensland, wreaked havoc on our sheep and wool industry and even inspired their own (slightly macabre) kind of annual awards.

As much as it may sound like one - it’s not a zombie apocalypse. It’s Queensland’s wild dog epidemic, and it’s quickly becoming one of the worst byproducts of the drought.

More than $5 million in funding has been officially directed to Queensland to control pests as part of the Federal Government’s recently announced drought aid package.

However in what many see as a ‘quick fix’ approach to the worsening crisis, according to the State, using the funds for new infrastructure like fences is completely off the table. Programs that include baiting, trapping, scalp bounties and shooting have the green light.

Federal Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott has lashed out at the restrictions on funding, arguing that conventional methods of control like baiting are failing. Queensland Country Life has reported western shires as indicating in principle support for fencing solutions.

It’s an issue which is further complicated by questions of compliance and enforcement. At present, the onus is on local government to issue pest-control notices to ensure all landholders 'take reasonable steps' to keep their land free of wild dogs – however, there is no obligation for landowners to comply.

A developing pilot project announced by Agriculture Minister John McVeigh may be the light at the end of the tunnel. The project will support selected shire councils to enforce the law on wild dog management, with the LGAQ working with the Department of Agriculture to ensure compliance issues are addressed with the implementation of the new Biosecurity Act.

Queensland Country Life journalist Sally Cripps is the journo to watch for breaking wild dog updates. Check out her Twitter updates for an inside scoop.

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