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Regional and urban development: the Commonwealth - Local Government link: policy discussion paper.



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MEDIA RELEASE

 

Senator Sue Mackay

Shadow Minister for Regional Services,

Territories and; Local Government

 

29 January 1999

99/04

 

Policy Discussion Paper Regional and Urban Development:

The Commonwealth - Local Government Link

 

Senator Sue Mackay, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, today released a discussion paper aimed at canvassing some of the issues associated with regional and urban development, especially with regard to the relationship between the Commonwealth and Local Government.

 

“The importance of a cooperative link between the Commonwealth and Local Government in the context of a national regional and urban development agenda is a policy field which, I believe, must be revisited by the Labor Party,” said Senator Mackay.

 

“Since being appointed to the Shadow Ministry, I have met with Councils, Local Government Associations, regional organisations, trade unions, various State Parliamentary colleagues, and various academics and experts in the field. What is clear from these discussions is that there is a real need to revisit and revitalise regional and urban development policy and to take a national approach that builds a strong cooperative working relationship between the three spheres of Government.”

 

In the paper, Senator Mackay calls for a return to national leadership in regional and urban development and highlights the principle of subsidiarity.

 

“National leadership for local empowerment in regional and urban development is vital to the long term prospects for Australian prosperity and social cohesion,” Senator Mackay said.

 

“The principle of subsidiarity is key to this - devolution of decision-making to the level at which implementation is most efficient. Empowering local communities to make decisions about their own future - with strong support and facilitation by State and Federal Governments.

 

“We must engage in a vigorous debate about the role of each sphere of Government in urban and regional development, and that we must engage in that debate as a matter of urgency.

 

“We must have a vision for the future, rather than a fear of the future, and we must work cooperatively in partnership to achieve that vision.”

 

 

 

Further information or copies of the speech, contact Jane O’Dwyer 0419 93 7336

 

 

Regional and Urban Development: The Commonwealth

 

- Local Government Link

 

A Discussion Paper prepared by Senator Sue Mackay

 

Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and; Local

 

Government

 

Presented to the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Counci ls

 

January 29, 1999

 

 

Regional and Urban Development: The Commonwealth - Local Government Link

 

The importance of a cooperative link between the Commonwealth and Local Government in the context of a national regional and urban development agenda is a poli cy field which, I believe, must be revisited by the Labor Party.

 

This paper is a preliminary discussion piece aimed at canvassing some of the issues associated with regional and urban development, especially in relation to Local Government, and pointing to some international examples worth examining.

 

Labor is taking the time at the moment to examine its policy framework - we are in the very early, contemplative, stages of policy making. Over the next year that will move into the more detailed stage of policy making. In the meantime the Shadow Ministry is out and about consulting with the groups and organisations in each portfolio area.

 

Since being appointed to the Shadow Ministry I have met with Councils, Local Government Associations, regional organisations, trade unions, various State Parliamentary colleagues, and various academics and experts in the field. What is clear from my discussions with these groups is that there is a real need to revisit and revitalise regional and urban development policy and to take a national approach that builds a strong cooperative working relationship between the three spheres of Government.

 

Before I go any further, I must make one point clear - and it is a point that the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils made during the last election campaign. Regional is not rural. Regions are communities of interest. Regions exist in urban Australia, regions exist in large country centers, and regions exist in rural and remote Australia. A regional policy approach should be viewed as a framework for economic, social and community development that recognises that we are not all the same, that the needs of individual communities differ markedly, but that all communities play a role in building a better Australia.

 

One point that has been raised continually that underpins this approach, is that whilst the problems may be the same (high unemployment, lack of services, access to capital etc), the solutions for each region are different.

 

It is appropriate that this paper should be presented to a particularly successful and active Regional Organisation of Councils. WSROC provides a good example of Councils working together as a voluntary region to maximise benefit for each of their local communities. Yesterday, I spoke to a Western Australian regional group of Councils - the South Metropolitan Group, who also see the great benefit that can be achieved for each local community by pooling resources and taking a regional approach to achieve critical mass in activities as varied as economic development and employment creation, through to waste management and environmental management.

 

This voluntary clustering occurring across Australia provides a good example of why a regional approach is appropriate and effective not only in rural and remote Australia, but in urban Australia as well. Regional Development and Urban Development must be seen as linked and closely related. As President of the New South Wales Local Government and Shires Association, Cr Peter Woods, said to me recently, the problems of Sydney are quite often the solutions for the regions. I believe to a large extent that theory applies nationally.

 

National leadership for local empowerment in regional and urban development is vital to long term prospects for Australian prosperity and social cohesion. In order to develop the essential infrastructure and conditions necessary for economically, socially and ecologically sustainable growth, all three spheres of Government must work together cooperatively and collectively in consultation with local communities.

 

The principle of subsidiarity is key to this - devolution of decision-making to the level at which implementation is most efficient. Empowering local communities to make decisions about their own future - with strong support and facilitation by State and Federal Governments.

 

Labor has long viewed national leadership in regional and urban development as fundamental to the role of a Federal Government, and has a proud record of recognising the important role of Loca l Government in that policy agenda.

 

This fundamentally separates us from the Coalition, in particular the Liberal Party, who adhere to a strict ideological view that the only good government is small government -missing the opportunity to play a vital facilitative and leadership role.

 

Labor has had a long history working with Local Government in regional and urban development. The most significant policy makers forging this relationship where Tom Uren, Brian Howe and Simon Crean in the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating Governments.

 

Councils - be they in urban, rural or remote areas are at the centre of their communities. In an era where citizens feel remote and disenfranchised from the political process, and powerless in the face of rapid global change, the coal-face of politics is Local Government. The prevailing zeitgeist, not only for in Australia, but globally provides real opportunities that can assist in the reconnection of people to politics.

 

A solid quite from the Hon Alan Hunt, Victoria's longest serving Local Government Minister best illustrates this - "I have written and spoken of late, about the importance of active citizen involvement to a healthy democracy. It is local democratic government that people relate to first. "

 

That is why Local Government must be seen as a partner of the Federal Government, and must be integral and pivotal to any regional and urban development agenda.

 

The current Republic debate provides us an opportunity to fundamentally reexamine the relationship of the three spheres of Government in Australia. Any examination of our Constitution enables us to ensure that Federal, State and Local Government work together as equal partners by clarifying the roles and responsibility of each sphere of Government, and enshrining local democracy in the Constitution.

 

However, returning to the current state of play, since the election of the Howard Government in 1996, we have seen a rapid departure of the Commonwealth from regional and urban development, and associated with that a weakening relationship between the Com monwealth and Local Government. The Howard government has taken a strictly constitutional approach to Local Government - viewing Local Government as a creature of the States, and failing to recognise that there is great benefit for the Australian community to be gained through a collaborative, equal partnership between the three spheres of Government. In fact, the massive change in the fiscal arrangements for Local Government funding proposed by the Coalition will at best corrode the role of Local Government and at worst see its role and contribution disappear.

 

This strictly constitutional view has carried over to regional and urban development. The Howard Government's view of the Commonwealth's role in regional development and urban management was made cle ar in July 1996, when the then Minister for Transport and Regional Development said that "there is no clear rationale or constitutional basis for Commonwealth involvement" in regional development or urban management.

 

Under the Howard Government Local Government, and Regional and Urban Development have taken a back seat, a perception reinforced by funding cuts to Local Government and the dismantling of program such as Working Nation.

 

The Howard Government has inflicted cut after cut on Australian communities. Urban and rural regions are suffering a massive loss of services - banks are closing, Commonwealth offices are closing and the services needed to build strong communities are diminishing. While that service loss is felt hardest in rural Australia, many urban communities are suffering service loss too. Recent moves by the New South Wales Local Government and Shires Association to establish Local Government banking services, a move that is also being discussed in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, is symptomatic of the frustration being felt, and the innate capacity for empowerment in this sphere.

 

The current Howard Government agenda and culture has put what is a vital Local Government and Commonwealth partnership under immense and damaging strain.

 

In Government Labor pursued a comprehensive regional development program - a program that actively included Local Government and would have inevitably bolstered its role.

 

The Labor Party recognises the important leadership and facilitative role of the national government in addressing the problems of Australia's regions. We recognise the problems of regions as the problems of the nation. The Working Nation and Better Cities regional development programs of the Hawke and Keating Governments laid the framework for resolving inequality between regions. Unfortunately, Labor did not have the opportunity to build on that framework and rather than building on that framework, the Howard Government dismantled it.

 

Paul Keating summed up Labor's approach to regional development in 1993.

 

"Regional Development means national development on a regional basis. It does not mean parochialism but partnership. It means pulling the regions of Australia together into a national grid. It will require a spirit of collective responsibility - between communities, business and trade unions and between the three spheres of government.

 

That sentiment still holds true today.

 

Labor made it clear at the last election that we are still committed to a national approach to regional development - and most importantly for local agendas to be set by local people.

 

"Labor sees a vital role for government in regional development. Labor knows the big picture is important. But we also recognise that we have to construct that picture from the ground up, with every regional community developing its piece of the mosaic. The prosperity of regional communities not only benefits those communities, the increased growth and jobs also benefit Australia's growth as a nation.

 

Local people are best positioned to identify the future potential of their communities. Labor will work in partnership with them, offering expertise and support where necessary, to develop a vision for the future of their community.

 

All spheres of government must be involved; both in generating a vision for those communities, and in devising a strategy to realise community goals. Bringing all of the players together is the vital role that the Commonwealth must play. (A Better Plan for Regional Australia)

 

This vision is one we will work to build on over the coming year. As Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government 1 am keen to see the importance of Local Government in regional and urban development firmly back on the policy agenda.

 

There is no doubt that national and proactive leadership is required as a matter of urgency.

 

The National Institute of Industry and Economic Research late last year released a State of the Regions report that highlighted growi ng disparity between Australia's regions. That report showed very clearly that unless the Federal Government takes a leadership role urgently, many of Australia's regions will continue to decline at a rapid rate.

 

Then report showed that decline, while marked in many rural communities, is not limited to rural regions but extends to many urban regions.

 

"Some regions are experiencing long term structural difficulties and some cases decline. The South Australian and Tasmanian economies are confronted with declining population growth associated with slower economic growth. Much of rural Australia remains depressed... A number of urban areas are experiencing long term problems with high unemployment ... some examples of regions with some or all of these characteristics include Western Melbourne, Northern Adelaide, South Western Sydney and the NSW Central coast. - (NIEIR, State of the Regions Report, 1998, page 4)

 

The Report recommended a regional economic policy agenda for Australia, including 'a central role of the federal government, support from state governments and an innovative and expanded role for local government in local and regional economic development. -

 

This is a challenge the Labor Party must take up with vigour, one that national governments around the globe are assiduously pursuing, and one the current Government will unfortunately continue to ignore. It is extraordinary that in this era of economic globalisation that innovation and ground breaking ideas emanating from other countries are not a matter for routine public debate.

 

As 1 said before, Labor is currently in the contemplative stage of policy development. The views and ideas of Local Government will be included in that process. By working together the Commonwealth and Local Government can ensure that national objectives are met in a sensible, and appropriate way for local communities. There is a need to place Local Government in a pivotal position as part of a national regional and urban development agenda.

 

There is much to be gained by Australia examining the examples and lessons of other nations. Whilst international regional development policy varies enormously - there is a common link in the involvement of local communities in national policy through coordinated effort by all spheres of Government - and notably through direct linkages between Local and National Government. This approach is virtually axiomatic in countries like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

 

Increasing disparity between regions within national boarders over the past twenty years has seen regional development initiatives instituted by national, state and local governments around the globe. Some of the principles and models used in the United States, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand and Britain are of interest to Australia.

 

Internationally there is greater and greater autonomy, responsibility and control of economic development being devolved to regions - especially in the EU, - Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland and Great Britain are good examples.

 

Today I will touch on three approaches, all which recognise the important role of Local Government, not just in service delivery, but in driving the agenda from a local level. They also recognise regional development as being inclusive of both rural and urban communities.

 

In the United States of America a good example of regional and urban development, driven by communities is provided by the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community program run by the Federal Government. This program seeks to facilitate economic and commu nity development for regions suffering the greatest decline in industry, employment and population.

 

The program embodies four key principles:

 

•  Economic Opportunity

•  Sustainable Community Development

•  Community Based Partnerships, and

•  Strategic Partnership for Change

 

The program is heavily jobs focused, but recognises employment creation is not separate from human services, education, planning, and environment. The linkages are not only recognised but encouraged. It requires regions to develop strategic plans, involving Local and State Governments, community groups, health and social services groups, environment groups, the private and nonprofit sectors, and education and other community institutions. There is an inherent synergy in regions that provide great opportunities.

 

The community develops a detailed strategic plan that involves an audit of the region, examination of linkages to the rest of the state and nation - and local authorities are encouraged to remove regulatory and other barriers to economic development. The strategic plan sets goals, performance benchmarks for measuring progress and establishes a framework for assessing how new experience and knowledge can be incorporated on an on-going basis into a successful plan for revitalization.

 

The program is summed up as "Through the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community process, the Federal government offers a compact with communities and State and Local governments.. ifyou plan comprehensively and strategically for real change, if the community designs and drives the course, we, the Federal government, will waive burdensome regulations whenever possible, and work with you to make our programs responsive to your plan." (Empowerment Zone internet site)

 

The program is unashamedly skewed toward the poorest regions in the United States .

 

The Federal Government through the United States Development Agency provides has key responsibility for the program and facilitates strategic development and plan implementation.

 

Communities and receive a combination of tax incentives, direct grants and priority consideration for flexibility from the Community Empowerment Board.

 

European Union

 

The European Union has a heavy focus on regional development aimed at addressing disparity between regions withi n and across national borders. The Commission works with National, State and Local Governments to address disparity between regions.

 

EU money is given to the regions in the context that it is to be used in addition, not instead, of national funds. Priorities for funding are set by the regional and local authorities with a set of detailed targets and identifying how EU money will assist national measures. Emphasis is placed on flexibility and careful planning.

 

A good example of regional and urban development that works through Local Government under the EU program is provided in Northern Ireland.

 

Ireland introduced Local Economic Development Measures in 1994 as part of the European Union Structural Funds Program which involves Local Government directly in regional development.

 

The EU Program co-finances the expenditures raised by Councils.

 

The Irish program is viewed by the EUR as a test of the principle of subsidiarity -

 

Councils submit action plans to the National Government and national and EUR fundin g is allocated accordingly.

 

The program has been adopted in the theory that "Councils know their own 'turf between than most central agencies and can use their explicitly local remit to identify local needs and gaps in provision of more cost effective ways." (M. Smyth, Local Economic Development in Northern Ireland: Removing the Democratic Deficit)

 

The range of roles for Councils in local development include

 

• Assisting in formation of a development strategy for the area

• Providing resources for the imp lementation of the strategy

• Identifying bottlenecks and shortages on the supply side

• Facilitating the provision of land and planning applications related to economic development

• An advocacy role

• Providing business referral services in partnerships with other business support agencies

• Co-ordination community development associations and interest groups in the area to ensure the fullest dissemination of information

• Coordinating the piloting of active labour market projects

• Piloting innovative training, environmental and co mmunity development initiatives

 

The key is flexibility and there is a great deal of flexibility in the way councils implement local economic strategies.

 

While it is perhaps to early to measure the outcomes of the EUR program, early indications are that t he program has been well received by Local Government and Councils have established working frameworks for local implementation.

 

Great Britain

 

Prior to the last election the British Labor party released a working paper examining the opportunities to deve lop Britain's regions, addressing the massive inequalities that exist between regions.

 

The core of the British approach is again subsidiarity - to decentralise decision making while at the same time ensuring central government provides the necessary frameworks, facilitation and support to enable regions to make real progress.

 

"Decisions must be taken in regions. Action must be tailored to local circumstances, and take account of local needs. We must work with local partners ... to deliver our objectives" (Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, 1997)

 

The British approach will prove particularly interesting for the ALP - much sharing of ideas occurred between the British Labour Party and the Keating Government. The outcomes of the British approach will offers us clues as to how to further development our own regional development agenda.

 

This paper is a preliminary discussion of the key policy issues in the portfolio area. What is clear is that we must engage in a vigorous debate about the role of each sphere of Government in urban and regional development, and that we must engage in that debate as a matter of urgency.

 

We must have a vision for the future, rather than a fear of the future, and we must work co-operatively in partnership to achieve that vision.