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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 975

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (11:21): I endorse the remarks made by previous speakers on this extremely important topic, especially the member for Parkes and the member for Dawson, who have considerable experience in local government. I also acknowledge the remarks made by the member for Chisholm. Indeed, everything falls back on local government to provide absolutely everything in their community. As the member for Parkes so correctly pointed out, it is not just about roads, rates and rubbish anymore; it is everything from childcare centres to counselling services. You name it, local government has to provide it. That is why recognition of local government in the Constitution is so important. We have seen all too often where federal government money intended to go to local government ends up going through the bureaucracy of state governments and so little of it trickles down the line to where it is most needed.

When it comes to roads, that is where local government does provide such a great service, but they do it with such little funding these days and there is only a limited revenue base for local governments to get their money from. In my local government area the Wagga Wagga City Council has just imposed parking fees at the local airport in an endeavour to raise more funds. Tumut Shire Council is desperately seeking funding at the moment for Gocup Road. Prior to the 2010 election the coalition committed $11 million of funding to this state road. Gocup Road provides a vital service in the Snowy Mountains area for tourism but more importantly for Visy Industries, a multi-billion-dollar industry providing many hundreds of jobs for the Tumut shire. This road, which is very winding and very narrow, has to support not just heavy haulage B-double trucks and semitrailers but also school buses. It is not a good mix and it is going to end in tragedy if something is not done to help Gocup Road. The new mayor of Tumut Shire Council, Councillor John Larter, and his very hardworking general manager, Bob Stewart, have asked me to lobby the government to provide much-needed funding for Gocup Road. I have written to the Minister for Local Government and Regional Development, Simon Crean, to seek a meeting as an avenue to provide funding for this vital piece of infrastructure, which is so important to the Riverina and Tumut shire. It has been said that there is no argument for recognition of local government in the Constitution. In the Pape v Commissioner of Taxation matter it was determined that:

… the Commonwealth does not possess the power to fund whatever bodies and activities it desires. It may only directly expend federal money in areas where the Commonwealth can demonstrate that it has a specific power under the Australian Constitution to do so.

The Commonwealth does not have any general power under the Constitution to regulate or fund local government.

That is why it is so important that local government be recognised in the Constitution. The Commonwealth, as the overarching government in this nation, has to be able to provide money directly to local government so that money can go to the areas where it is so desperately needed. Road funding is one of those all-important areas.

In New South Wales the percentage of own-source revenue in 2005-06 was 84 per cent, so you can see how limited local government is in providing its own revenue when there are so many demands to provide avenues of community help and assistance. Particularly in New South Wales, where rates are capped, there are very limited opportunities for local governments to be able to provide the sorts of infrastructure that people demand and expect of their local shire councils. Roads, as the member for Parkes pointed out, are the lifeblood of this nation. Every grocery item that ends up in a metropolitan supermarket starts its life on a local government road in regional Australia. It is high time that local councils were able to access more money from the federal government to provide that infrastructure.