Feature: New minister, new direction.
By LGAQ Media Executive Craig Johnstone
The 18 July election result was not only a boilover in terms of a surprise win for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It also heralded a changing of the guard in those figures charged with stewarding the local government sector from a federal perspective.
The new Local Government Minister, Mark Coulton, should be well placed to understand the issues that impact on councils. The former mayor of Gwydir Shire is the MHR for the New South Wales seat of Parkes, a rural seat that stretches from the Queensland border south to a point just past Condobolin and west to the South Australian border. Mr Coulton is a long-time member of the National Party and his other portfolios include Decentralisation and Regional Services.
He also continues as Assistant Trade and Investment Minister.
In his maiden speech to Parliament in 2007, Mr Coulton had this to say about the challenges facing local councils: “In regional areas, local government is under increasing pressure. It has become the primary vehicle for the delivery of services. Councils across regional Australia have risen to the challenge to meet the needs of their communities and are not only providing the traditional services of roads, rates and rubbish but now involved in health, child care, social work, education and aged care. They are doing a magnificent job but are grossly underfunded. I firmly support a more equitable method for funding regional local government.”
He went on to praise the widely admired Roads to Recovery program.
“The Roads to Recovery program, instigated by my predecessor, the Hon. John Anderson, has been a real boon to regional roads in Australia. However, despite this unprecedented amount of investment, parts of my electorate remain severely hamstrung by a rural road network that has not improved since the days of horse and buggy. I firmly believe that the productivity of an area should be a major consideration when allocating road funding. I intend to drive this concept forward at every opportunity.”
Despite Parkes being regarded as a rural electorate, Mr Coulton made the point that more than 80 percent of his constituents were not involved in agriculture but had built their lives living and working in regional towns and cities within the seat.
Following his appointment, he told the Moree Champion newspaper that his priorities included improving the rollout of the NBN, bringing more medical professionals to regional areas and building on the government's mobile black spot program.
The Labor Opposition’s spokesman on local government is former Gillard and Rudd government minister Jason Clare.
Mr Clare, the MHR for the western Sydney seat of Blaxland, worked for toll road operator Transurban before entering Parliament in 2008. Understandably, he has taken a special interest in infrastructure investment.
He told Parliament in his maiden speech that the Business Council of Australia estimated the country had a $90 billion infrastructure deficit.
“To tackle this task, like many others, we must bring a willingness to work together: working in partnership with state and local governments, with the private sector and with the community to renew our nation-building zeal, to build the infrastructure we need not just for today but for tomorrow,” he said.
After his appointment, he said if Labor wanted to win the next election it needed to listen to regional communities.
“Australia is successful when our regions are strong and the Labor Party is successful when it gets regional Australia, focuses on the regions and develops plans to help them grow,” he said.
“The work our local governments do is a key part of this. Local governments do the heavy lifting in our communities. They provide critical services and local leadership.”
Photo: The Local Government Minister, Mark Coulton (Federal). Image: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Local Government Association of Queensland
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