1 April 2024

Sustainability inquiry announced for councils at 'tipping point'

| Lyndon Keane
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Alison Smith, head of the peak body for Queensland councils, says they are at a “tipping point” as the Federal Government announced an inquiry into local government sustainability. Photo: Facebook (Local Government Association of Queensland).

Councils across Cape York and the Torres Strait have welcomed the announcement a Federal Government inquiry will investigate local government sustainability in Australia.

The government unveiled the inquiry on 21 March, with chair and Member for Solomon Luke Gosling admitting there was significant work to be done to fully understand the pressure councils were under to service their communities.

“Local government sustainability is essential to supporting our Australian communities through the provision of vital infrastructure and related services” he said.

“The committee is seeking to understand the challenges faced by local governments in servicing infrastructure requirements across Australia’s regional, rural, and remote locations.”

While the committee has promised to visit rural and remote locations as part of the inquiry, it remains to be seen whether Cape York and the Torres Strait will make the agenda.

Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) chief executive officer Alison Smith said councils had reached a “tipping point” through cost-shifting and being expected to offer communities services well beyond the traditional remit of the sector.

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“The LGAQ’s cost shifting research found councils – and their ratepayers – are being forced to cover a $360 million black hole every single year, up 378 percent since we last tallied up the cost shifting burden two decades ago,” Ms Smith said.

“That’s money that could otherwise be spent on core council services, which ratepayers rightfully expect.

“Instead, our cost shifting research has found that Queensland councils are doing the work of others by running post offices, aged care and childcare, rebroadcasting free-to-air television, operating morgues, and owning and managing concrete plants.

“Councils have reached a tipping point; they either need fair funding to continue to provide these services, or they need the levels of government whose responsibility these other functions belong to, to shoulder their fair burden.”

Ms Smith’s sentiment was echoed by one Cape York council CEO, who shared the realities of local government operation in remote areas on the condition they not be identified.

“I’d like to think [the inquiry] will make a difference, but the problems are things government already knows all about; they just don’t want to do anything to fix it,” they explained to Cape York Weekly.

“LGAQ is spot on; things are pretty dire around the issue of our sustainability through no fault of our own.

“It’s worse for those of us up here with no ratepayer bases, because we have to go cap in hand to government every time we need funding to do something … most of the time, that something’s a responsibility that the state or feds have handballed to council.”

Written submissions can be made to the Standing Committee on Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport by the 3 May, 2024 deadline.

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