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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 971

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (11:00): I rise to speak to this motion on local government. There are some parts of the motion of the member for Lyne for which I have full sympathy. I spoke of the need for recognition of local government and the need for a regular funding stream to local government in my maiden speech in this place in February 2008. Local government has been meeting to discuss constitutional recognition and a conference relating to that was held in Melbourne last year. My concern is for regional local government—local government in rural areas. If we look at a funding stream and just bundle all of local government in together, I believe that regional local government will still be the poor cousins. What has happened over many years is cost shifting down to local government so that local government in rural and regional areas are responsible for many things that large metropolitan local councils are not.

I was the Mayor of Gwydir Shire Council before I came to this place, and not only were we responsible for the basics of local government—the three Rs: the roads, rates and rubbish—but also we were responsible for aged care and child care, we owned two medical centres, we employed an early family intervention worker, we were the RTA agency and we were the Centrelink agency. That is a whole range of responsibilities that, in larger areas, local government would not have to deal with. We were even involved in landcare type issues. We also had responsibility for a large network of very poor quality roads servicing highly productive areas.

While I agree that we need a regular funding stream, I think that we need to look at this not as a flat rate. If we receive this funding as a percentage of GST or if it is allocated on a per capita basis, once again the City of Sydney Council, Brisbane City Council, Hornsby Shire Council, Blacktown City Council and so on will be flush with cash. They have large rating bases and many people stacked up several storeys high but have nowhere near the responsibility of regional councils. I believe that we have got a way to go with this, but what I have been saying to the councils in my area is not to rush into something that is once again going to leave regional local government the poor cousin. Indeed, Gwydir Shire Council and Moree Plains Shire Council have formed the Australian Rural Roads Group to lobby on behalf of high-production agricultural councils and to speak of the benefit of local roads. Everything that we purchase on the supermarket shelf starts its life on a local road. Indeed, the economic capacity of this country is being impacted because these rural businesses—many of them are multimillion dollar businesses—cannot meet contractual agreements because of the poor state of the roads. We have seen a focus on metropolitan areas and the large arterial roads, and they are important, but the local roads are equally important. When assessing a government's commitment to country roads, a fund for the Pacific Highway really should not be taken into account. It plays a different role compared to the local roads. While I agree with the sentiment of the member for Lyne, I cannot agree to the detail or the intent of this motion. I will continue to lobby in support of a decent go for funding and recognition of local government in Australia.