I have been thinking a lot, sometimes aloud, about what happens to local communities when the State and Federal economic stimulus runs out by the end of 2021, mid-2022 at best.
The August Statement on Monetary Policy produced by the Reserve Bank of Australia – and its accompanying Economic Outlook – have only served to heighten my concern about the tough times that lay ahead. We could be facing economic stagnation for the balance of the decade. That is a real and daunting possibility. Now is not the time for timidity in thinking by all levels of government. Now is the time for courage. The time for big, bold initiatives. For local government, we need to build on the rolling pump-priming Works for Queensland program and other similar short-term job generation initiatives and focus on catalytic projects, those with very large economic multipliers.
Top of mind is a statewide network of IoT (Internet of Things) devices like smart poles crowned by LED lights. These poles not only provide street lighting but can measure everything from pedestrian and vehicle traffic movements to flood levels and air quality, while also giving residents and visitors better access to Wi-Fi. Rolling out smart poles across Queensland is doable within four years. It would be ubiquitous and game-changing. The LGAQ has completed detailed planning work for this large project. With the strong support of our members, the Association pitched the transfer of the State’s streetlight network to councils – on commercial terms – to the Palaszczuk Government as an idea in 2017. It died on the vine. All it needs is a State Government tick and your Association can flick the switch in an instant and get cracking on a project that will turn the lights on in Queensland, both metaphorically and practically.
Energy from Waste
The same goes for our push for a complete rework of the waste industry to achieve the goal of zero waste going into landfill by 2035. Included in that strategy are several initiatives – some of which are already under way - including recycling glass fines and tyres into hard stand, road base and pavements; recycling existing road pavement for re-use; and, establishing Energy from Waste( EfW) plants across the state. Our strong preference is for council-owned and/or operated advanced thermophilic anaerobic digesters. The LGAQ has already produced a seminal blueprint report on this possibility, based on the productive use of the proceeds of the State Government’s waste levy over the next 20 years.
Reliable water and wastewater
There is also the LGAQ’s five-year $500 million Rural Water and Wastewater Guarantee. In order to prosper, our rural towns and communities need a reliable water supply. You cannot attract industry or provide decent living conditions without this. The same goes for a reliable electricity supply. Peak Services has been working with many rural communities on micro-gridding, using combinations of solar, thermal, and geothermal power.
Finally, we need a review of Queensland’s infrastructure charging and planning framework to clarify and remove inequities that shift the cost burden onto councils and the community. This will allow councils certainty to make the decisions that best suit their communities and their budgets. It will give councils more scope to be bold when it comes to enticing certain developments and industry into their community by offering short-term, targeted infrastructure charging discounts or holidays. Those who have followed my advocacy in this space for decades will think I have taken leave of my senses, as neither the LGAQ nor I have ever advocated for transferring the private sector’s infrastructure costs on to ratepayers.
Former Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s targeted use of infrastructure charge holidays to entice luxury hotels to Brisbane helped change my mind. The Quirk initiative attracted five new hotels, which have changed the city and generated jobs. Before this Brisbane had not attracted a new five-star hotel in 20 years.This is the theory behind the State Government’s $200 million Building Acceleration Fund. This initiative will provide co-investment funds, via an interest-free loan, for infrastructure projects that are ready to start within 12 months of funding approval and will have substantial flow-on economic benefit.
So, there you have it.
Cast your mind to the last two years of this term and the balance of the decade. Local government and the LGAQ will be playing our part.