Presidential Address - 123rd LGAQ Annual Conference
Local Government Association of Queensland
123rd Annual Conference – President’s Address
Delivered by Mayor Mark Jamieson
President of the Local Government Association of Queensland
15 October 2019
Good morning everyone and welcome to the 123rd Local Government Association of Queensland Annual Conference.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Elders of the land on which we gather today.
The Yirrganydji & Gimuy Walanburra Yidinji peoples.
And pay my respects to their Elders past and present and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
I would also like to acknowledge:
- The Honourable Stirling Hinchliffe MP, Minister for Local Government, Minister for Racing and Minister for Multicultural Affairs
- Mr Warwick Agnew, Director-General of the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs
- Ms Kathleen Florian, Independent Assessor
- Cr Bob Manning, Mayor, Cairns Regional Council and his councillors for playing host for our Conference
- My fellow Policy Executive members
- LGAQ Chief Executive Greg Hallam and the LGAQ staff
- Representatives of our conference sponsors
- The representatives of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services who are with us this morning
- And of course, I acknowledge all of the mayors, councillors and council chief executive officers who have joined us here today.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the final LGAQ annual conference for this term.
And what a term it has turned out to be.
Plenty of excitement and upheaval on many fronts - and not just when it comes to the familiar challenges of drought, flood and our daily efforts to serve the needs of our communities.
And today is no different, with the Minister’s announcement this morning.
I want to start by applauding the Palaszczuk Government for listening to the united voice of Queensland councils and agreeing to retain optional preferential voting for our elections.
We are delighted that our voice has been heard and thank the Premier and the Minister for supporting our democratic wishes.
Our position that was endorsed with 98% of the vote at our Special General Meeting in April this year.
And I think the Minister deserves a round of applause for delivering this news this morning.
It’s fair to say that issues of integrity and accountability have overshadowed this term of local government like no other in recent memory.
The behaviour of a small handful of individuals has tested a sector that numbers 552 elected members and more than 40,000 staff.
And without a doubt, it has had an impact on the reputation of local government.
But in the face of such challenges, I’m pleased to say that as a sphere of government, we have remained united around the need to be seen by our communities to do better - while resisting the many attempts to divide us for political ends.
I’m also very proud to be part of a sector that has demonstrated again and again this year, that we genuinely are the level of government closest to the people.
While that phrase is mentioned often, it never loses its power to define the essential nature of the work our councils do.
Even our harshest critics would have noted the exceptional efforts of local mayors and councils in serving their communities during the monsoon flooding that hit northwest Queensland earlier this year.
Or during the devastating bushfires that have hit places in this state that have never had to worry about fires before.
They call these sorts of floods and fires - Black Swan events.
Disasters that are intense, unexpected and immensely hard to recover from.
Many Australians, including the Prime Minister, have expressed their admiration for the work our mayors and councillors did to help their communities pick themselves up and overcome what were unprecedented natural disasters.
As did John Andersen, the winner of the 2019 LGAQ Bean, Lockyer, Ticehurst Journalism Award, which we announced last night.
They also recognise the hard work that Mayors and Councillors then put in to prevent the natural disaster causing a flow-on economic disaster for their region.
Their determination to do everything they can to provide the things that would help their communities feel more “secure” - in all senses of that word – has demonstrated in large measure the significant contribution which local government makes to the social fabric of Queensland communities.
The response to the floods and bushfires by the federal and state governments simply would not have been as effective, were it not for the knowledge and experience of our local government leaders.
This is something that is often overlooked.
So, it is important that we never lose sight of what councils can - and do - achieve for their communities every day.
Speaking of Black Swan events – arguably we have another one in the form of this punishing drought which is affecting most of Queensland.
What is certain is that - just as with other natural disasters – it is local councils which have led the way in terms of responding to the drought.
As I said at the Bush Councils Summit in Roma in August, while we welcomed the commitment from the Federal Government to the north-west following the monsoonal flooding earlier this year, we will be looking for a similar commitment to help our communities survive the challenges of this drought.
This is both in the way Canberra deals with this current drought - and how it is preparing for future droughts.
Specifically, we are working hard to make sure the Government accepts that drought not only affects farm businesses, but entire communities.
I’m not saying that projects to sustain farm businesses should be anything less than an essential part of Australia’s national drought strategy.
But the challenge does not end at the farm gate, as you all fully appreciate.
I’m pleased to say that on Sunday, your LGAQ Policy Executive endorsed an Eight Point Action Plan for sustaining communities through drought.
That plan has as its driving philosophy, the notion that the distinction between severe drought and natural disasters such as floods and cyclones can be artificial.
And that Queensland needs a comprehensive, integrated approach to preparing for and managing all events that severely impact our communities - not just some.
Our councils are already there in many respects.
Providing local leadership, support and on the ground care for our residents in times of adversity.
This is something that I sense many in our communities know and intrinsically value about their council.
I’ve made mention before of the unique perspectives of our civic leaders in rural and regional Queensland – particularly when facing the challenges dealt by Mother Nature.
This is a characteristic that never fails to inspire me when I travel around Queensland.
You will not see that combination of stoicism and humour in any other level of government or political leadership.
Yet it is a quality that local communities respond to and appreciate.
I guess it is just another attribute that the other tiers of government can learn from our own!
And I encourage you to remember, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and we are there to help you.
The LGAQ is always ready to support you in any way we can.
Both Greg and I are only a phone call away if you need us.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges that many of us have faced over the past year is coming to terms with the Belcarra-related changes which were put in place in May 2018.
I think it is fair to say there is widespread agreement that these changes have had a significant impact on how councils go about their business.
Well, the LGAQ now has hard evidence about the impact of these changes.
Recently we commissioned research firm Colmar Brunton, to survey elected members and their CEOs above those impacts - both personally and on the decision making and operations of councils.
That survey found that 49 percent of elected members and CEOs said the changes have had a negative effect on the operations of their council.
Tellingly, most said the changes had slowed decisions and around half said they had negatively affected the relationship between councillors and their community.
I won’t colour this story as I would be doing you all a disservice as your Association President.
Yes, this is a grim result - but one that needs to be told.
You will get a chance to see more survey results at your council segment sessions later today.
Your Policy Executive has also agreed that these results be provided to every Council.
And they have also been provided to the State Government, which needs to understand the impacts of their reforms in an unfiltered manner.
But enough of that for now – as I always endeavour to focus on opportunity and that is where I know we all prefer to channel our efforts.
A key part of my annual address is to update you on what your LGAQ has achieved on your behalf throughout the year.
As I mentioned earlier, this year has been both eventful and remarkable.
While there are many “wins” I could rattle off, just a couple of highlights that I know are incredibly meaningful for each of your councils include:
- Securing the continuation of Works for Queensland for regional and rural councils
- Gaining a commitment from the State Government to return 70 percent of the proceeds from their new waste levy to local governments – so we can drive waste management reform
- Locking in a Queensland Waste Strategy, including a pathway to an Energy from Waste industry
- Maintaining the value of state government funding for Works for Queensland
- Successfully rolling out the QCoast 2100 and Queensland Climate Resilient Councils programs, and
- Building from scratch, a program to improve capacity among councils in trade and investment attraction.
Our relationships with the Federal and State governments are both productive and forthright.
We never leave either of them in any doubt of what we think.
In fact, we would not be doing our job – and the right thing by you as our members – if that were not the case.
It’s fair to say we don’t always see eye to eye with either of these governments.
But I believe Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appreciates and supports the role that local government plays in supporting local communities and driving regional economies.
Which she has demonstrated through her Government’s continued support for Works for Queensland.
The Premier knows that the job of boosting and maintaining regional employment is best done when you put councils in charge of where best to invest in those jobs.
But for all that, it is incumbent on us to demonstrate to the Premier when some of her Government’s reforms do not deliver a better result for councils.
We need to be vigilant for example, around the long-awaited reform of grants to local councils.
The Local Government Minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, has announced what he considers to be a new approach to the system of grants and subsidies administration.
We think that is an initial step.
But it falls a long way short of what we expected when this Government first agreed to the need for grant reform.
We will be watching closely just how the Minister and his department intend to roll out this new approach to grants.
We will give credit where it is due – but we will also be calling out any reforms that fall short of our expectations.
Of course, the same goes for the Morrison Government and whatever it does regarding federal grant reform.
In the lead up to this year’s federal election, the LGAQ, the other local government associations around the country and our national body, ALGA, pressed the benefits to local communities if the Commonwealth invested more funds into the system of financial assistance grants to councils.
Specifically, we argued that the value of this grant pool should be restored to the equivalent of 1 percent of total Commonwealth tax revenue.
Councils across the nation were united that this would give communities a shot in the arm in terms of infrastructure and services.
While we did not get this across the line during the election campaign, we will continue to push our case.
What concerns us most is that the Federal Government and its ministers seem more interested in encouraging some councils to argue about who should get which piece of the cake – rather than calling for the whole cake to be bigger.
I think I have raised this with you previously, but I just want to re-emphasise the point.
This approach is all about divide and conquer – so only one party – that being the Federal government – wins.
It is a cheap political tactic and anyone who falls for it is letting their community down.
The old saying that there is strength in numbers could never be more relevant.
I encourage you to maintain the focus on arguing for a fairer go from Canberra on behalf of your communities - rather than get caught up in its political games.
You can be assured that we will continue to maintain the pressure on your behalf in the year ahead.
Likewise, we will be driving a major advocacy push in the lead up to the next State election.
Which will include seeking a commitment from whomever forms government of at least $500 million to invest in avoiding the looming infrastructure cliff affecting our water and wastewater networks.
This essential infrastructure is integral to the liveability of our communities.
Poor decisions by successive State governments over at least the last decade have resulted in a problem that can only be described as a developing crisis.
We have raised this on a number of occasions with the Minister, other Ministers and their advisors.
And we will continue to beat this drum loudly - because locking in a funding solution is crucial for your councils and your communities.
Away from our advocacy role, your LGAQ has continued throughout the year to expand and improve the many and varied products that we have created to help us all do our jobs better.
There is the continued investment in the Proud to be Your Council campaign, and the work we have put in to boost the skills of councils to attract overseas trade and investment.
I hope many of you took the opportunity to engage with our Queensland Government Trade and Investment Commissioners when they were here yesterday.
For next year’s council elections, we have put in place an Independent Local Government Election Monitor to help ensure vendettas against candidates and plain old “fake news” do not mar the thinking of voters as they go to the polls.
I won’t steal his thunder, because Greg Hallam wants to share some more details on this one with you all tomorrow.
- The Energy Detective products being rolled out by our data analytics team at LG Sherlock
- Our new web platform Jadu - which is helping councils all over the state better connect with their communities
- The work being done on block chain so that there will be greater security in council procurement and insurance, and
- The new app to help councils deal with the conflict of interest laws.
To have these products as part of the local government landscape would have been inconceivable when we began this term.
All of these applications will improve connectivity with your communities, with other levels of government and each other.
I said connectivity would be a major theme of my time as LGAQ President and that is what we are delivering for you on so many fronts.
In particular, I think it is fair to say that everyone at the LGAQ takes immense pride in what we have been able to achieve in terms of value for money for our members.
From the array of services that we have been able to be put in place through Peak Services, designed to better assist you and your councils deliver for your communities.
To the dividend we have been able to give back to Councils from the performance of Local Government Mutual, which has enabled us to significantly reduce the cost of membership to your council – while at the same time expanding the service mix and return for you, our members.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to finish off where we started – that this is the last annual conference for this term of local government.
As we approach the end of the four years, across the board, the local government system has much to be proud of.
In the period since 2016:
- Total local government debt has reduced by some 25% to $4.8 billion
- Net debt stands at $500 million
- Our total workforce at just over 40,000 is at 2008 levels, and
- General rate increases in aggregate have been contained to CPI.
No other tier of government can claim such a fiscally responsible and prudent result.
And never forget, they manage on 82% and 15% respectively of total taxation revenue.
While we get by on just 3% and have responsibility for over 30% of the nation’s infrastructure, including 76% of the nation’s roads.
Finally, I will sign off with a thank you to those who have decided to call an end to their local government careers.
Congratulations on your service to your communities.
There is no more vital a job than ensuring your community is able to reach its full potential – and you have played an important part in that journey.
If I can single out a couple of civic leaders who have made a difference, let me recognise Ray Brown for his stellar local government career as a mayor and councillor, but also for his unstinting service on the LGAQ Policy Executive and Board for many years.
And our local government family will also say farewell to Policy Executive members, McKinlay Mayor Belinda Murphy and Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey.
Belinda is the personification of that unique combination of stoicism and good humour I talked about earlier.
You would be hard pressed to find any other mayor who has faced more political and personal tests this term than Belinda.
But she has shone through them all.
Alf has served nearly 20 years in local government, including three terms as mayor.
Alf has been a great advocate for the Palm Island community and has ably represented his constituents and their needs to government and to our LGAQ.
And of course, I want to particularly acknowledge Paul Bell – who after 35 years in local government, has decided to call time.
You would go a long way to find someone who has contributed as much to our local government family.
As a councillor, former mayor and someone who has stood on this stage as our Association President for two terms, as well as a stint as the national President of ALGA.
To Paul, Alf, Belinda and Ray, and to all the other elected members who have decided to seek other opportunities, may I wish you the best of health and wealth in whatever you pursue after local government.
And best of luck to those who have decided to give it another crack in March.
Ladies and gentlemen enjoy the next few days.
They are for and about you, our member Councils, Councillors and staff.
Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way!
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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