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Election2019 Blog

by LGAQ Media Executive, Craig Johnstone by LGAQ Media Executive, Craig Johnstone

Entries with tag election2019.

Biodiversity: even small investments mean big benefits

Days out from an election is usually not the time the major parties contesting the poll would change the nature of their pitch to voters. So far, that pitch bears a strong resemblance to those adopted at previous federal polls, appeals to the hip pocket nerve through tax breaks and mortgage relief (Liberal National Party) versus big spending on health and welfare (Labor). Barring a sudden shift in voter sentiment or a surprise issue coming in and knocking both campaigns askew, the LNP and Labor will only sharpen these pitches as they run down to next Saturday.

One issue has struggled to get traction despite it being rated consistently now as one of the most important for Australians. When climate change has been discussed in this campaign, it has been in the context of how much the various policies put forward to tackled it would cost. What little debate there has been has also been dominated by questions of mitigation against future climate change rather than adaptation to the changes that are already occurring. Local communities are in the frontline in fighting the latter.

The other big challenge that is vexing councils, and is related to climate change, is preserving biodiversity. What is called natural resource management is a job that falls mostly on local governments. Queensland councils spend $260 million a year on natural resource management including revegetation, habitat restoration to improve connectivity for biodiversity and other such projects for the protection of biodiversity. 

Councils spent about $45 million alone on controlling invasive plants and animals _ that is, preventing native mammals, birds and vegetation from becoming extinct. A recent United Nations paper found that the world risks losing up to one million animal and plant species unless governments at all levels commit to improving biodiversity. Some scientists say the loss of biodiversity poses a greater threat to the world than climate change.

It is local councils that are doing the heavy lifting on preserving biodiversity. For every dollar spent on controlling invasive plants and animals, there is a $2.20 direct benefit to agricultural production and $3.00 of other socio-economic and environmental benefits.

All this is why the LGAQ’s seven-point federal election policy plan calls on all parties to back a program that will share this load. The ask is comparatively small: $9 million over three years but the need is urgent and the ultimate benefits, huge.

 

The big issue the parties cannot see

While this federal election campaign has been notable for the amount of attention parties have given to local community issues like waste management and housing, there remains one significant blind spot in their thinking when it comes to Canberra’s responsibilities. This blind spot has a name,  financial assistance grants. These untied grants are a lifeline for many local communities as their councils simply would be unable to provide the level of services the public expects without them. The funding source that most people associated with councils, rates, can only plug part of the gap between the services council provides and the money they have to pay for them.  The remainder is filled by funds from a range of sources, including financial assistance grants.

The trouble is that these grants have steadily eroded over time and with successive federal governments. This is where the blind spot comes in. The Commonwealth raises 87 percent of all taxes in Australia, while local government is responsible for just 3 percent. Yet the major source of funding to councils from the Commonwealth, financial assistance grants, is half what it was 25 years ago. For local communities, that means fewer roads can be maintained, less green space can be set aside and better water treatment facilities are being delayed because of the financial squeeze being put on their councils from Canberra. These grants maintain local jobs and create new ones, provide infrastructure that communities value and give the federal government a community connection that it otherwise would not have.

Councils from around Australia, not just in Queensland have long called for these grants to be restored to proper levels. That is, at least the equivalent of 1 percent of total Commonwealth taxation revenue. The challenge at this election is for the major parties in particular to acknowledge there is a problem and some indication they will fix it if they win on 18 May. There have been some initial indications from Labor that it may be prepared to address the issue but as yet no detail has been forthcoming.

Until it is, local councils will keep banging the drum for some fairness to be shown in relation to these grants. Each and every local community in Australia benefits from them so, in an election where local issues seem more important than ever, it should be a no brainer.

Good news from the Cape

While Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten prepare to battle each other tonight in the third and final leaders’ debate, a contest just as enthralling is being played out thousands of kilometres away from the media spotlight in Canberra.

The electorate of Leichhardt, held on a 4 percent margin by the LNP’s Warren Entsch, is gradually forcing its way to the top of the list of seats to watch when the vote count begins on election night. The reason is that, while Leichhardt has always been vulnerable for the LNP, the number of policy fronts on which Mr Entsch and his party have had to fight on to defend it is growing markedly.

The latest is on the issue of indigenous housing, hardly a showstopper for either of the major parties at the beginning of this campaign, but now an area in which both have made major announcements in recent days.

This blog has already covered the implications of Labor’s $112 million indigenous housing promise, an announcement that resulted in a marked improvement in how the party rated on the LGAQ’s election report card.

Now, the LNP has made a policy announcement of its own, promising $105 million to continue construction of hundreds of badly needed dwellings in remote indigenous communities (although there is confusion about whether communities outside of Cape York are included).

The first thing to say is that this is a welcome move from the LNP. After months of political posturing, it shows the party, along with Labor, recognises that the federal government has a role to play in ensuring overcrowding is reduced in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.   Bipartisanship between traditional political opponents is rare so when it comes about it should be celebrated.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (with Mr Entsch in tow) travelled to Pormpuraaw to make the announcement, which included a vow to deliver the funds straight to local councils rather than through the State Government.

“The Queensland Labor Government rebuffed numerous Commonwealth offers on a genuine housing partnership, so we will now deal directly with the councils to deliver housing,” Mr Entsch said.

“This historic initiative will mean more jobs and training opportunities for local workers in our remote indigenous communities.”

While attractive, this is potentially problematic, given that the State will still be expected to fund half the cost of the program and associated water and other infrastructure would remain a State responsibility to provide.

But in a seat that is somewhat unique in terms of the capacity of the indigenous vote to influence the result at election time, the need to move swiftly on indigenous housing funding might have taken precedence over settling on the detail.

It is intriguing that, with 18 May looming fast, both the LNP and Labor have now got their chequebooks out to tackle this issue after months of fruitless lobbying by local councils and the LGAQ on the need to continue the good work of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

That, as they say, is politics. The bottom line is that, no matter which party claims government after 18 May, indigenous communities look like they will be in a better position than they were a few weeks ago regarding their housing future, and that is unarguably a good thing.

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