Issue 33 July 2014

MAV President's Update - occasional report from Cr Bill McArthur, President of the MAV

Issue 33, July 2014

McArthur Local Government Fellowship winner

Congratulations to Moreland councillor Lenka Thompson, winner of this year’s McArthur Local Government Fellowship.

This month, Lenka will travel to the UK to investigate options for council involvement in housing programs to address homelessness, housing stress and housing affordability issues. Opportunities for local government to implement a Land Trust model will be the key focus of Cr Thompson’s trip.

We wish Lenka the best with her research and look forward to her findings being presented to MAV members later this year.

Fighting Federal funding cuts

The recent National General Assembly in Canberra provided opportunity for councils across the nation to voice our shared concerns about the Commonwealth’s freeze on financial assistance grants indexation. A vote by 900 delegates for the Government to reverse its decision sent a strong message and we need to keep the momentum up by writing to Federal MPs advising of the impacts this decision will have on your local communities.

The consequences won’t just be felt for the three years of the freeze, but will continue for many years to come. Even if indexation is restored in 2017-18, the total financial assistance grants funding will have reduced by 12 per cent and by 2018-19 the total funding lost to the sector will equal 95 per cent of annual Roads to Recovery funding.

While both the major parties have committed to the continuation of Roads to Recovery until 2019, the $350 million annual program does not yet have the legislation in place to extend it beyond 30 June 2014. The Land Transport Infrastructure Bill 2014 is yet to be debated by the Senate due to political party disagreement on other matters included in the Bill.

Last month’s High Court decision in the Williams chaplaincy case has placed a cloud of uncertainty over many direct federal funding programs, including Roads to Recovery. The Court found that the legislation was not properly made as it relates to chaplain programs, since it found there was no head of power in the Constitution that allows the Commonwealth to legislate in this area. The implications of this decision for local government are potentially significant, and the ALGA is awaiting legal advice on this matter.

As a sector we need to stand united to fight any changes that reduce the long-term Commonwealth financial assistance relied upon to help maintain our local roads, community infrastructure and council service responsibilities.

One way for us to do this will be through the review of our Federation arrangements. The Prime Minister last week announced terms of reference for the White Paper on reform of the Federation, which flags the Government’s intention to reduce responsibilities at the federal level.

The coming 18 months will be a critical period for local government to exert its influence and ensure a sustainable future for our communities. We also encourage councils to continue briefings with your local Federal members, as this is an important way to ensure local government’s voice is heard in Canberra.

Meeting with the Minister and rate capping

Our recent meeting with Minister Bull was positive and it is pleasing to see the depth and breadth of knowledge he has on many local government issues. Our discussions included progress of the revised Victorian State-Local Government Agreement, the need for a business case to be developed before any proposed library reforms are progressed, and continuation of the discussion about our concerns with proposed governance and conduct reforms.

The MAV has recently received a section 186 Ministerial approval for contracts entered into by councils through MAV Procurement. In practical terms, this means that councils are now able to access all MAV Procurement contracts irrespective of whether a council approved us as its tendering agent. This is a great outcome for councils wishing to access savings achieved through MAV collaborative tendering processes, and we thank Minister Bull for this decision.

The Minister also issued a strong statement last week reinforcing the Government’s opposition to rate capping and the negative impacts this could have on local communities. While the sector must keep up its vocal opposition to Labor’s rate capping proposal, it is interesting to note their new policy platform developed by members does not specifically refer to rate capping. Instead it states that Labor will… ‘recognise and support the autonomy of councils in setting rates and municipal charges’.

As the Platform will be used to inform future policy, we hope to see a shift in the Victorian ALP position in relation to rate capping. However, at this stage we cannot assume the previous announcement by Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews has changed and our advocacy efforts will continue. The local government section of Labor’s policy platform (PDF - 2.45MB) begins on page 75.

MAV state election Call to Parties

This week the MAV Board meeting considered our draft Call to Parties document, which will seek commitments on behalf of local government from each political party in the lead up to the state election.

The draft includes priority issues previously identified by members through our strategic planning process earlier this year, recent metropolitan and rural/regional member forums, and State Council resolutions. The draft Call to Parties covers eight key themes: State-local government relations, regulatory and self reform, planning, environment, transport and infrastructure, community services, public health and safety, and emergency management.

Members will be given the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft Call to Parties before it is finalised and circulated to all political parties by the MAV.

Councillor Development Weekend

Our annual Councillor Development Weekend, the principle training and development event for elected representatives, is coming up this month from Friday 25 to Sunday 27 July in Creswick.

A great program is on offer with presentations covering topical issues facing councillors including engaging communities, the new finance and reporting regime, social procurement, political trust, ethical leadership, and innovation in the digital age. Keynote speakers include Minister Tim Bull, Shadow Minister Richard Wynne, Dr Leslie Cannold, Waleed Aly, and Dr Chris Caton.

I hope to catch up with many of you over this weekend. It’s an ideal opportunity for both new and long-term councillors to come together to hear from experts, share our experiences and build our skills to better serve our communities.

Please get in touch if there are any other matters you’d like to discuss with me.

Best wishes
Bill