The importance of local government

Published on Mon 26 November 2018 12:26pm

Mr Wilson (12:26pm) – I’m very glad to be part of the debate on this motion. I’m well aware of the vital role that local government plays across Australia and I’m particularly familiar with the role it plays in my electorate. The cities of Cockburn, Fremantle and Melville, and the Town of East Fremantle all contribute to the distinctive culture and character that is a feature of the various landscapes and neighbourhoods within the federal electorate that I represent.

On Sunday I was at the George Street Festival in East Fremantle, which has been going for nearly 30 years. On the Friday before that I was at Yangebup Family Centre in Cockburn, which provides both child care and social inclusion programs for seniors. Earlier in the same week I met representatives of Friends of Monument Hill, which of course is the principal commemorative site for veterans and for those who lost their lives or suffered in their Defence Force service. All of these activities, facilities or locations are operated and sustained by local government in partnership with the local community.

I had the privilege of representing the Beaconsfield Ward as councillor in the City of Fremantle for nearly seven years, including five years as Deputy Mayor. I loved that work. It was challenging work and taught me a great deal. I want to take this opportunity to recognise two aspects of the local government world that might sometimes get overlooked. The first is the quality and commitment of local government staff, from the CEO, directors and managers right through to the workers who staff libraries and recreation centres, manage our parks, deliver essential services and run cultural programs. All these people provide critical public services, and I know that those who work for local governments in my electorate often do so because they find community work compelling in itself. They are drawn to building resilience and vitality and creating a sense of shared wellbeing in our neighbourhoods. I applaud that.

The second aspect I want to mention is that layer of community and resident groups and organisations whose volunteer work is essential in guiding, supplementing and partnering with local government. There are dozens of these across the Fremantle electorate, from the Aubin Grove Residents Group in the south-east to APACE in North Fremantle by the coast. They include groups focused on history and heritage, like the Fremantle Society and the Heritage Guides, through to surf life-saving clubs at Leighton and Coogee Beach, and of course organisations that protect local amenity and environment like Native ARC, Save Beeliar Wetlands and Friends of Woodman Point. I say to all of those volunteers and office bearers at the end of another big year, well done and thank you.

Traditionally there has not been a lot of direct involvement between the Commonwealth and local governments, but that has gradually changed. Of course it was the Whitlam government which took a direct interest in the delivery of essential local services like sewerage. Since that time Labor has made sure to look at how the Commonwealth can partner with and enable local governments and local communities. Indeed, people will remember that during the global financial crisis it was a hallmark of Labor’s world-leading approach that stimulus funding was directed through the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, which produced the double benefit of underwriting local employment and creating community infrastructure of lasting benefit. In the Fremantle electorate that resulted in fantastic and enduring projects like the restoration of Locke Park rotunda in East Fremantle, the new community and recreation centre in Hilton and the brand new Coogee Beach Surf Life Saving Club in Cockburn. I’ve been glad to subsequently build on those community facilities through the Stronger Communities Program—for example, with $20,000 for the new first responder training room at Coogee Beach and with $7,000 for new lights in the PCYC at Hilton, among a range of other local improvements.

I’m grateful to the member for Mackellar for bringing this motion and for highlighting the programs through which the Commonwealth supports local road improvements and other amenities. I do need to point out that the outcomes under these programs vary and, as I’ve noted in the past, Western Australia rarely gets a fair share. The Bridges Renewal Program is a good example. I’m glad to have supported the successful application from the City of Cockburn, which is currently delivering the much-needed duplication of the Spearwood Avenue Bridge. But, within the program as a whole, WA has fared poorly. Of the 375 projects supported so far, only 12 have been in WA—that’s three per cent. Of $341 million in total funding, only $28.5 million has been directed to WA, which is about 7.5 per cent. You can’t say that we’re getting a look-in when WA is 10.5 per cent of the national population and a full third of the Australian land mass.

Local government is the most accessible and responsive layer of government in Australia. It reflects the services and landscape of our neighbourhood. It reflects our local character. For all those reasons, I’m supportive of measures to increase the ways in which the Commonwealth can engage with and fund that vital work.

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