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Mayors make merry ahead of handouts -

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Mayors make merry ahead of handouts

The World Today - Tuesday, 18 November , 2008 12:30:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: It seems like a match made in heaven- local council mayors and a Federal Government
that wants to give them money to spend.

Representatives of most of the country's councils and shires are in Canberra today for the first
ever meeting of the Council of Australian Local Governments.

And even before the meeting began, the Commonwealth was promising to give the local government
leaders $300-million, as chief political correspondent, Lyndal Curtis, reports.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Representatives of most of Australia's more than 600 local councils and shires
gathered in the Great Hall of Federal Parliament this morning with their state and territory and
federal counterparts to a warm welcome from the Federal Minister, Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is in recognition of the role that you play in your local communities that the
Rudd Government has brought you to the heart of government, here in Parliament House.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And the Local Government Association president, Paul Bell made it clear they were
happy to be there.

PAUL BELL: It's great to be at you place. It's one of the best town halls I've seen in Australia.

LYNDAL CURTIS: There was much said about the historic nature of the occasion, but Councillor Bell
summed up the new mood with a more direct example.

PAUL BELL: Nothing more to me reflects just how far we've moved in a short time, than the presence
of the Treasurer Wayne Swan here today. Four years I've been knocking on treasurers' doors, never
to be allowed, let in, because they always knew that I would be asking for what you wanted.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The mayors and shire presidents will spend the day with cabinet ministers discussing
a range of issues and ways the two levels of government can work together.

PAUL BELL: So today, as I've said, is I think a first in the world, it's very historic, it's very
significant in the way in which we move our sphere of government closer to the national agenda to
live it locally.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And the desire to work together to deliver on a national agenda is particularly

As the global economic situation gets worse, the Federal Government is looking for ways to keep the
Australian economy's head above water and infrastructure spending is one way it has chosen to do

It believes local government can deliver quick benefits that spread across a community, and is
giving it $300-million to spend over the next six months on different projects.

It's money the councils say they need, in fact the need is so widespread it had Anthony Albanese
looking for the one mayor who wouldn't be interested in having their hand out.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Are there any mayors who don't have anything to spend money on community

(Audience laughs)

Okay, I thought there might be one. And it was a very generous fellow last night; I won't give him
up where he was. He said to one of the colleagues, "We're actually a really wealthy council and we
actually don't need any of the money." I want to meet this fellow.

LYNDAL CURTIS: He says the councils can deliver money that benefits a whole community.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Local government infrastructure is essentially egalitarian in its nature. It is
those families who don't have the big backyard for whom the local playground or the local park is
so important. Everyone, each and every Australian, is equal when they go through the turnstiles at
their local municipal pool.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And even those local councils not from the Labor side of the tracks were keen to get
on board.

Graham Quirk from the largest council, Brisbane City Council, had the shingle out and was touting
for business.

GRAHAM QUIRK: Try us out. We will deliver quickly and efficiently and with the best value for money
that the Australian dollar can buy.

LYNDAL CURTIS: With local government keen to get its hands on the Commonwealth cash, Anthony
Albanese had one message.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is, get your skates on. You know, if you sit back the money is not going to
sit there waiting for you.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Federal Government is promising this meeting will just be the first of many and
it's also promising it will deliver on its commitment to changing the Constitution to recognise
local government.

The message that the Commonwealth is engaging on reform of the Federation was underlined by the
Prime Minister, who arrived fresh from touring storm savaged areas of Brisbane with the Brisbane
Lord Mayor Campbell Newman,

KEVIN RUDD: This is necessary for the Australian economy, this is necessary for the Australian
people who demand better services, necessary for the Australian system of government, which
requires greater accountability. The people, the people of Australia, are demanding that we
cooperate. That is the mood of the Australian people today and they are right, they are 100 per
cent right.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But Mr Rudd also has a short term agenda, responding to the global financial crisis.

KEVIN RUDD: There iss much more work to be done. Because what we are doing is we are waging a war
against global recession and global unemployment and we are determined to deploy every tool at the
Government's deposal. Every tool at the Government's deposal to deal with the crisis the world now
presents us.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And he has outlined the conditions for the infrastructure spending that the
Government is handing council to help keep the economy and employment ticking over.

KEVIN RUDD: This initial $300-million capital injection into the program will be delivered by 30
June 2009 in two programs. $250-million will be allocated to each council and shire based on a
formula that recognises need and population growth, but with minimum allocation of a $100,000.

We expect this funding to be allocated to new initiatives to repair and build community facilities,
initiatives that are over and above those already planned for and budgeted for. Second, the
Commonwealth will invite bids for a further $50-million to be invested in large scale local
projects such as new sports stadia, entertainment precincts and cultural centres that require a
large Commonwealth contribution, $2-million or more.

We'll be asking local government to implement a speedy rollout of infrastructure and investment to
deliver both an immediate economic benefits and long-term community benefits. Moneys from both
funds will need to be expended by the end of September of next year. Our intention is to have this
spending done as quickly as possible.

ELEANOR HALL: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ending that report from Lyndal Curtis.