The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) Fairer Share advocacy campaign began in the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election, calling on the Federal Government to re- store the Commonwealth Financial Assistance Grants to local government back to a level equal to at least one per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue - the level they were at in 1996.
Huon Valley Mayor Bec Enders introduced a motion to adopt the ALGA Fairer Share advocacy kit to join stage two of the campaign, which kicked in after the Coalition Government was re-elected in May last year, after making $2.25 billion worth of election commitments, of which just $1.5 million, or 0.07 per cent, benefitted the electorate of Franklin.
This compares to the marginal electorates of Bass, which received $103 million, or 4.5 per cent, Braddon, which received $84 million, or 3.7 per cent, and Lyons, which received a massive $185 million, or 8.2 per cent, of the funding commitments.
The Huon Valley Council (HVC) municipal area received $1.25 million for the Port Huon pedestrian path project, $75,000 for the Huonville tennis court upgrade and $65,000 for the Huon Valley PCYC lighting upgrade.
The remaining $113,000 was allocated to the Kingborough Sports Centre sub-soil drainage project. The HVC also benefitted from a portion of the $9.9 million Tasmanian Bushfires Economic and Community Recovery Package to promote tourism, support businesses and repair damaged recreation and community facilities in the Huon Valley, Derwent Valley, West Coast and Central Highlands council areas.
“I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise to my fellow councillors, to our businesses and community, that the electorate of Franklin will not be in the spotlight as we head towards the 2022 elections, unless we alter the path from our traditional model of seeking funding,” said Mayor Enders.
“This does not mean that we cease our regular meetings with politicians, nor does it mean that we don’t take every opportunity presented to us to win funding.
“I’m asking for agreement from my fellow councillors that the HVC works with businesses and the community to campaign the Federal Government, using this structured approach, using the Fairer Share campaign.”
According to the ALGA, the Commonwealth Government collects about 80 per cent of Aus- tralia’s total tax revenue, while local councils raise only 3.6 per cent.
Councils, however, are responsible for 33 per cent of Australia’s public infrastructure, including 75 per cent of the nation’s roads.
ALGA president David O’Loughlin says that 3.6 per cent of the tax take is not adequate funding. “There is currently a $30 billion infrastructure backlog, and this is going to continue to grow and impact further on productivity and safety,” said Mr O’Loughlin.
The Commonwealth Government, each year, provides untied financial grants to local government through the Financial Assistance Grants programme to provide for spending on local roads and other council identified spending priorities.
This year the grants amounted to $2.5 billion, $77.9 million of which went to Tasmanian councils.
The HVC was allocated a total of $2 million for general purpose spending and $1.7 million for spending on local roads.
This amounts to 14 per cent of HVC’s total estimated income for 2019/20.
In 2014/15, the Federal Government placed a three-year indexation freeze on the Federal Assistance Grants, which was lifted in 2017/18, but amounted to an approximately $1 billion loss to local government, in addition to a permanent reduction in the grant’s base by an estimated 13 per cent.
The Fairer Share campaign seeks a return of the funds lost due to the indexation freeze and, over time, a return of Financial Assistance Grants to total one per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue.
The grants are especially important for regional and rural councils where local governments have small ratepayer bases, ageing infrastructure and a limited ability to increase revenue, due to a high proportion of ‘non-rateable’ land and a smaller population, with revenue raising via facility charges, such as parking fees, unavailable.
The two main sources of funding for councils are rates and grants and, as grant income declines, councils have to fill the revenue gap by increasing rates or reducing services.
Rural and regional councils often have higher costs per capita than metropolitan councils, with older, more disadvantaged or more vulnerable populations, who require more services from councils, larger asset bases relative to the population, an environmental stewardship role, including responsibility for weed and pest animal management, responsibility for flood mitigation infra- structure and more dispersed populations, which increase the amount of travel needed to deliver services or which require duplicate facilities to be provided in multiple locations to meet local needs.
At the December meeting, councillors voted to defer the motion calling for the adoption of the ALGA Fairer Share advocacy kit, with the motion due to come back before council at the March Ordinary Meeting.