Restoring the voice of local government in national decision-making

Published: 26th March 2021

Hi everyone, LGAQ head of Advocacy Alison Smith here, bringing you this week’s wrap from Canberra where I am attending an Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) board meeting alongside your ALGA board reps, Mayors Matt Burnett and Jack Dempsey.

We have also been meeting with Federal Local Government Minister Mark Coulton and the Federal Opposition while here in the nation’s capital.

High on our advocacy list has been the continuing campaign to restore the voice of local government in national decision-making through a seat on National Cabinet, so we can ensure the voices of our local communities are represented and well considered.

Federal Labor have committed to giving ALGA a seat at the table should they win the next Federal Election. 

We have called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Coalition Government to match that commitment.

You have me for this week’s wrap because there has been a lot of advocacy in the past week that I would like to share with you.

Namely, the LGAQ has this week submitted a law reform proposal to the State Government relating to the conflict of interest legislation. 

A big thank you to all 27 councils who sent us examples of the problems you have been experiencing as a result of the unintended consequences of these laws.

The Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government Steven Miles has been sent our submission; so has the OIA.

What our submission does is outline your concerns and puts forward sensible changes that we want made.

The unintended consequences have been many. Examples we received included:

  • The inability of mayors and councillors to contribute to their communities, to hold meetings, and to make decisions for the people who elected you.  
  • The extra time you are spending going through the conflict declaration regime, which is reducing the time councillors can devote to discussing important community issues.

Elected members are finding the new laws are a deterrent to their involvement in community organisations and or charities – due to the fear that it might fall foul of the changes. 

And many mayors and councillors have found they are prevented from fully participating in the pursuit of significant investment and economic development opportunities for their regions - as this could result in them being prevented from having a say when final proposals come before council for a vote. 

The legislation, which came into effect in October last year, was designed to increase transparency around council decision-making.

However, what many member councils have told us, is that the legislation has actually reduced transparency – because many decisions are instead being delegated to the CEO to make, behind closed doors, and that this is increasing due to the impacts of the new conflict declarations.

Queenslanders expect the highest possible standards of transparency and accountability around decision-making by councils, as they do with all levels of government.

But the legislation needs to be workable, and allow mayors and councillors to do their job.

We look forward to working with the Deputy Premier and his Department to find solutions, and we’ll keep you updated on how discussions go now that they have our detailed submission.

On this topic, I also want to thank you for your feedback on the Conflict of Interest app that the LGAQ designed in consultation with the Office of the Independent Assessor.

The app was created to make your life easier by helping you to identify whether you have a conflict, and what action you may need to take.

A second version has now been developed, taking your feedback into account.

Once approved, it will be downloadable on your phone or PC. We will let you know as soon as it becomes available.

The Advocate team has also held some important webinars for members this week on another key area of focus – Road Maintenance Performance Contracts, following the Goondiwindi vs Tait case last year.

Lau Chean and Robbie Chow from my team, together with Mark Williams from King & Company, provided briefings and took questions from member councils. 

It follows our submission to the State Government earlier in the month for reforms to the Civil Liabilities Act

And finally, I wanted to draw your attention to an important advocacy win last week regarding the management of pests and weeds.

The LGAQ’s NRM lead Kristy Gooding has been working hard on your behalf to secure certainty for councils in the supply of 1080 poison and last week, Minister Mark Furner announced the Government would cover 75 per cent of the costs to councils of purchasing 1080 for the next three years.

The current Department of Fisheries and Agriculture supply will continue until the end of this year. This announcement has given councils certainty around the supply of 1080 for four years and that they will not wear the entire cost burden going forward.

The Association will continue discussions with Minister Furner and the government about the funding of 1080 going forward.