Federal election blog: Candidates beware: mayors are not happy

Published: 11th April 2019

With the election date set and the major parties already reciting their focus group tested lines about economic management (Scott Morrison) and leadership stability (Bill Shorten), the grand narrative of this campaign is being played out on the national stage. But, for voters, the big picture need not be drawn on a national scale. In fact, the more successful a candidate can be at convincing voters he or she is looking after their local interest, the more likely they will emerge victorious on 18 May. 

This is why it is in the parties’ interests to take notice of what peak bodies like the Local Government Association of Queensland is saying about this campaign. The LGAQ has a seven-point policy plan it will challenge the parties to respond to before the election. How the parties respond, along with their wider policies and funding commitments, will draw a picture about the extent to which whoever wins government on 18 May will unlock local community potential. And that’s a pretty big picture for many.

Among the LGAQ’s asks is for the parties to commit to proper grant funding for local governments. The proportion of grants flowing to councils from Canberra used to amount to 2 percent of total Commonwealth taxation revenue. It now stands at 0.55 percent, meaning local communities are missing out on a chunk of funds that they had previously used to build and maintain roads, libraries and parks. This at a time when many councils are being expected to shoulder more of the burden of providing services that should be with the remit of the states or Canberra. Think paying for teachers so that rural schools can remote open, or nurses so hospitals can continue to look after community health. For some councils, particularly the indigenous communities on Cape York and elsewhere in the state, these grants are the ONLY source of funding they have.

The response of the major parties to the proposal to restore financial grants has ranged from flat out refusal to barely disguised disinterest. But more than 60 percent of Queensland’s councils have gone to the trouble of passing formal resolutions in favour of restoring these grants to a meaningful level. That’s a lot of mayors to have off side. They are unlikely to stay politely quiet about the issue in the next five weeks of the election campaign. That spells potential trouble for candidates in marginal seats, especially for those with mayors who have a loyal community following.  Those hoping to win the day on 18 May will be reminded regularly that councils in Queensland employ 40,000 people and manage public assets worth more than $150 billion, and are headed by mayors, all popularly elected by their communities, who are not happy with the current financial treatment being meted out by Canberra.  

Watch this space…