Tonight, Australia will watch as the Turnbull government hands down its second Budget, which has councils and state governments holding their collective breaths for a more generous, or at least less austere financial plan.
One of the most vocal groups is the local government sector, which saw Financial Assistance Grants (FAG) severely cut through a freeze on indexation through the Abbott government’s first Budget in 2014-15.
It was a widely publicised cut that was fiercely opposed by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), which has campaigned for an end to the freeze on indexation at every Budget since then.
At the time, the federal government was looking for budgetary repair measures to ensure it would honour its promise to deliver a surplus, which is has been the proverbial ‘white whale’ for every government since the Rudd/Gillard years.
But now that Treasurer Scott Morrison is about to hand down the Budget for 2017-18, ALGA is keen to see if its Australia-wide campaign to hold the government to its promise to end the freeze on FAGs indexation has worked.
ALGA President David O’Loughlin said the campaign has so far sent more than 100 e-mails to politicians across Australia and across all parties, which “certainly gained the attention of Ministers and Federal members in Canberra”.
“The Opposition publicly reiterated its support to end the FAGs indexation freeze, and Senators and Members submitted motions, questions in writing and made statements in Parliament urging the government to deliver on its promise to restore FAGs indexation in [the] budget,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“A ‘thunderclap’ on 21 April on social media also saw the campaign message reach a social network of more than 65,000 – a tremendous effort!”
“On your behalf, I personally called every serving member of the Coalition who has a background in local government to highlight the issues, the disproportionate impact on regional communities, and the promise we were seeking to hold their administration to. I was well received and I asked them to do the hard work within their party structures to make it happen,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
In addition to ALGA’s call to restore FAGs indexation, it has provided recommendations for the 2017-18 Budget designed to support councils and communities to grow and develop into the future.
“The proposals put forward in ALGA’s submission, titled Investment in Tomorrow’s Communities, address some of the common issues that unite our councils and wider sector and will not only support local communities but boost national GDP by $5.5 billion and create more than 45,000 new jobs,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
He said one of these proposals is ALGA’s call for the government to establish a Local Freight Productivity Investment Plan, funded at $200 million per annum over the next five years.
“Local roads are a critical part of Australia’s transport infrastructure,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
He said ALGA’s plan addresses first/last mile and freight connectivity issues by supporting local government to assess key local road assets on designated freight routes and target pinch points.
“We know these investments will improve safety, access and connectivity between local businesses and national and global markets.”