Weekly Speak CEO Column
Big battles, big wins
When it comes to protecting the interests of local councils and their communities, the courts are often where the big battles are fought. The LGAQ has spent a great deal of time and resources ensuring justice is done for local government in Queensland and has saved them billions of dollars in the process.
A case in point was this week’s decision by the Court of Appeal to set aside the Supreme Court’s orders arising from its December 2017 invalidation of Mount Isa City Council’s water utility charge. The LGAQ partly funded the council’s appeal, having made the strategic decision that the issue had the potential to affect all councils. Sure enough, the win means a lot for all other councils as it involved arguments as to how they go about complying with the Local Government Regulation’s rules on water charges. This outcome reaffirms the flexibility that councils have when it comes to charging for water services.
The Mount Isa case follows several other instances where the LGAQ has invested in protecting the interests of councils before the courts. Another one was the long-running saga over rating that pitched the old Bowen Shire and then Whitsunday Regional Councils against mining giant Xstrata Coal. Then there was the battle over differential rating centred on Mackay Regional Council and the more recent wrangle involving Fraser Coast Council, again centred on rates.
These challenges have resulted in changes in legislation and processes that have ensured councils are now on much firmer ground when it comes to rating decisions. We have either won in court or convinced the government of the day to change the law. Helping fund these battles has not been cheap but when you look at the outcome no one can argue their value.
On another note, there is also no doubt the looming federal election represents the best chance for local communities to improve the deal they receive from Canberra. At the Australian Local Government Association board meeting this week, the agenda was dominated by the shape of the campaign ALGA, the LGAQ, other state local government associations and, hopefully, all 537 councils in Australia will pursue ahead of the election.
Spearheading that campaign will be a simple but powerful message: local communities deserve a level of services and infrastructure that only an increase in untied grants to councils of at least 1 per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue can provide.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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