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Address at the Regional Governance Futures Workshop Western Sydney, Penrith. -

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The Hon Maxine McKew MP Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government


Regional Governance Futures Workshop Western Sydney - Penrith City Council

MS04/2010 06 April 2010

Thank you for the warm welcome, Alison (McLaren, President WSROC).

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge other members of all three levels of government.

I'll get into the spirit of the workshop early by not singling out anyone in particular - except for Mayor Kevin Crameri and his team here at Penrith City Council, for being our hosts.

And of course WSROC and MACROC for their partnership in organising this workshop.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank Dr A J Brown for his work.

It's lovely to be here this morning and I thank you for the opportunity to participate.

I first met Dr Brown in Canberra at the 2020 Summit where he was an active participant in the Future of Australian Governance stream which I co-chaired.

It is terrific to see that Dr Brown has continued to explore and build on the themes and ideas raised at the Summit.

The 2020 Summit's governance stream involved 100 participants who were asked to consider the future of Australian governance, renewed democracy, more open government - including the role of the media, the structure of the Federation and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

This is meaty stuff that goes to the core of the way this nation is governed.

Senator John Faulkner was my co-chair at the Summit, and I whole heartedly agree with his observation that the nineteenth century structure of our Federation is creaky.

We can take pride in the fact that our democracy is stable - but while stability may be a strength, stagnation is not.

This nation and our perceptions of ourselves have changed immeasurably since the Constitution came into force on the first of January 1901.

Along with the development of a stronger national identity has come an accompanying increase in the role, power and financial responsibility of the Commonwealth.

Despite these changes, the Constitution and the formal, three tier structure of our government have hardly changed at all.

I know that Dr Brown has some interesting polling he will reveal shortly.

As a politician I should say I'm not focussed on polls.

But that would be a little hypocritical for me having scrutinised and analysed every shift and change in public opinion through several decades in journalism.

Without commenting on the specifics, I'd like to welcome the poll and its findings.

That's not because I know what the results are on Western Sydney but because no matter what they are, the poll will fuel an important local and national conversation on the pros and cons of our system of government.

In my capacity as Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Local Government I think any oxygen we can give to considerations of regional and local governance is a great thing, and we should have more of it.

So how do we move forward and advance this important national conversation?

As you all know, building consensus is a long and difficult process.

I wish you could be a fly on the wall at any COAG or Commonwealth-State Ministerial Council meeting.

Some of you who know better may not share that wish.

That's the reality of collaboration between governments - a slow, painful hard slog.

Talking about hard slogs, I understand that today marks the third and final workshop in a series of case studies analysing the strengths, weaknesses and challenges in regional governance across Australia.

I also understand that similar workshops have been held in Central Western Queensland and the Riverina to gain an insight into rural and remote regional governance.

So here we all are today, to kick around the future governance prospects for Greater Western Sydney - the subject of this project's urban case study.


I'm sure I'll be preaching to the converted here to tell you about the demographic imperatives at play in our country.

Our state is home to nearly seven million people - almost one third of the total national population.

Overall, the State's resident population increased by over 82,000 in 2007-08.

As of June 2008, 4.4 million people - that's 64 per cent of the State population - called Sydney home.

Of those residents, almost 2 million people (1.87 million) - that's a staggering 43 per cent of this city's total population - live here in the Western suburbs.

That's just over one in every 11 Australians lives in your 14 Local Government Areas.

Half the world's nations are also represented here in the West, alongside Australia's largest urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Our state, our city and your part of it are all growing quickly, and are set to get even bigger.

According to the International Data Base produced by US Census Bureau, New South Wales' population growth between 2003 and 2008 was 4.7 per cent, far outstripping the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Japan.

As you know, the Prime Minister has cited figures from the recently-released Intergenerational Report predicting a population boom in Australia over the next 40 years with an estimated 36 million people calling Australia home by 2050.

Brisbane and Perth are expected to double in size while Melbourne and Sydney are set to turn into super cities housing an estimated seven million people each.

And of course here in Sydney that means more growth in the Western suburbs.

I like to stress the positives in this scenario. There is a raft of opportunities in planning for future growth and development.

But I don't want to underplay the obvious challenges of managing the growth in population; housing affordability and availability; challenges around humanitarian and social inclusion issues; further congestion on our roads; and even greater pressure on public transport systems.

I know I don't have to tell you about the cost of urban congestion.

All of these challenges will be played out against the problematic backdrop of the national and global impact of climate change.

If we are to take a long term approach to government, we have to ask ourselves some hard questions.

Primarily, how do we work better together with our limited resources to face all these challenges?

This is why, on Saturday, the Prime Minister appointed Tony Burke to the new office of Minister for Population in the Treasury Portfolio.

Minister Burke will develop Australia's first Population Strategy.

This strategy will take a whole-of-government perspective that considers the social and economic infrastructure that will be required to support a growing population, as well as economic growth opportunities - especially for Australia's regional towns and communities.

Minister Burke has also been tasked with developing the cross government frameworks that will be required to make the most of the opportunities and minimise the risks associated with growth.

As a Government, we are taking an strong approach of co-operative federalism, through some old frameworks and a couple of new ones.

Today I'd like to give you the big picture of the dynamic that we have set up between the spheres I deal with predominantly - regions and local government.


At the top of the tree, we have long had COAG - the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, comprising the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.

Since 1992, COAG's role has been to initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms of national significance which require cooperation by governments across the three spheres.

There is no denying that COAG and the parliamentary committees that advise the forum do a great job.

The President of ALGA also has a seat at the table.

But COAG is, as I said, a peak forum.


On 18 September 2008, the Government announced the establishment of the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG).

Many of you will have attended ACLG's inaugural meeting in November 2008 and last year's June meeting. I hope to see many of you again at this year's meeting, which is being held in late June.

Its mission: to forge closer cooperation and direct engagement between the Australian and local governments.

ACLG actively promotes collaboration between the Australian Government and between local governments themselves.

It's chaired by the Minister Anthony Albanese and the Deputy Chair is the head of ALGA.

Its members include the National Secretary of the Australian Services Union which covers local government workers and the National President of the Local Government Managers Association.

It also includes the Director of the Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government - another Rudd Government vehicle for engagement between levels of government.


The Centre of Excellence is the first of its kind in Australia.

We have invested $8 million into the Centre with marching orders to boost the skills and professionalism of local government across the board.

Many local governments across the nation are already delivering infrastructure and services in a world's best fashion.

This year, the Centre will help deliver a range of programs.

One of them is a special Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) Management Challenge to increase women's participation in over 100 councils across Australia.

That's a good one for this Year of Women in Local Government.

I'm glad to see a Western Sydney Council is at the forefront, with Penrith City Council also named as a winner in last year's National Awards for Local Government for their Women's Services Sector Advocacy Strategy.

The Centre for Excellence is also providing advice to the Government on our $25 million Local Government Reform Fund.


The Fund is there to support Councils who want to improve their financial planning and asset management.

At this point I could paraphrase an old joke about psychiatrists and light bulbs, but instead saying how much funding does it take to change a local government?

The answer clearly is - not that much, but the local government has to want to change.

No matter what level of government you're at, national standards are inarguably in everyone's best interests.

That doesn't mean one-size-fits-all, that means the implementation of Nationally Consistent Frameworks for asset management and financial planning, that were agreed by the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council in May 2009.

The Reform Fund also encourages collaboration between councils to improve their capacity to serve local communities.

I know many of you do it already. We need everybody to consider it.

Applications for funding closed in November last year and some announcements have already been made.

Funding for NSW will be finalised and announced shortly.


There's nothing like a crisis for a litmus test of a government's true colours on its real priorities.

The Rudd Government's response to the global recession was our Nation Building-Economic Stimulus Plan.

Within that stimulus plan, sure enough, was a $1 billion injection, direct to all 565 Australian Councils and Shires to support local, community infrastructure projects.

These are projects chosen by local communities, managed by local Councils and Shires and importantly employing local people.

When it comes to sustaining regions and the work of local governments across these regions, we put our money where our mouth is.

Don't you forget it!

I have criss-crossed the country visiting communities to join in the celebrations to launch community infrastructure projects in urban centres, rural and remote communities.

Here in Western Sydney, Councils received just under $15 million ($14,972,000) for projects, including the refurbishment of the Regents Park Community Hub, installation of an adventure playground in Liverpool and extensions and upgrades to the Community Centre and Youth Hub in


An additional $6,303,000 under RLCIP Round Two was announced in June last year at the second meeting of ACLG.

Western Sydney communities also benefited from an investment of close to $22 and a half million ($22,246,800) under Round One of the Strategic Projects component of the program.

These major projects included an extensive redevelopment of the Coronation Park Netball Complex at Campbelltown.

Round Two's $120 million Strategic Projects component are currently under assessment.


By now you're probably wondering about what we are doing on a regional level.

Well let me assure you our reform agenda does not stop with Local Government.

Last month I had the pleasure, of hosting the inaugural meeting of Chairs and Deputies from our new Regional Development Australia network.

This new national network is this country's first truly cross-government, integrated approach to supporting regional development.

The network of 55 RDA committees has been established to engage with local communities to grow and strengthen Australia's regions.

It is a new beginning for regional advocacy and community development.

In partnership all spheres of Government, the private sector and the community, RDA Committees are:

• supporting informed regional planning; • consulting and engaging with stakeholders to identify and resolve critical issues; and • liaising with governments and local communities about the best, most appropriate programs and services to support their region.

Each Committee is made up of committed local champions who have been appointed by myself and the State Minister for their strong grass-roots understanding of their regions.

There was also a requirement for Local Government representation on each Committee, along with a cross section of community members from a wide range of backgrounds - agri-business, the resource and tourism sectors, CEOs, health professionals, and academics with a strong background in regional development research.

Their backgrounds may be varied but what they have in common is that they are all committed and passionate champions and advocates for their communities and for regional development.

It was very pleasing to see an article in The Sunshine Coast Daily a few days after the RDA Forum reporting that the Sunshine Coast Regional Development Australia board is set to carry out a 'listening tour' across the Sunshine Coast region to meet with local communities and discuss the issues impacting upon them.

Alan Pendleton, the Deputy Mayor of Blacktown, attended the National Forum in his capacity as RDA Sydney's Chair.

Alan is also Chairman of the Greater Western Sydney Economic Board.

I'm sure that he is well known to many of you already, and he will be even better known as RDA Sydney pounds the pavements in its quest to drive change and development across the Greater Sydney area.

RDA committees are contributing to regional planning by developing their own regional roadmaps.

We've also told them to go out and engage the community, use their smarts to promote the government programs and whole of government activities that are available, and come up with sustainable ways to fill in the gaps.

It is important to note that this is a truly collaborative approach to regional development and the 14 regions that comprise the NSW RDA network are supported by both the NSW Department of Industry and Investment and by my own Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.

The Rudd Government firmly believes that all three tiers of government in this country have a responsibility to ensure that every Australian, no matter where they live, has equitable access to social, educational and economic opportunity.

I know this motivates you all in your work, just as it motivates me.


I noted earlier that Greater Western Sydney was home to 43 per cent of this city's population.

The forecasts indicate that this region will need 68,000 jobs, 600,000 homes and more cultural and recreational facilities to ensure a sustainable quality of life.

Your councils have recognised this and I commend WSROC for its initiative in devising the Western Sydney 2030 project and the interactive website you have put together.

This is a great piece of 21st century thinking, a truly collaborative approach to ensuring that the people of Western Sydney have a voice in designing the Western Sydney they want to live in and how they want the region to evolve.

It's something the Rudd Government is thinking about on a national scale as well.

Just on a month ago, Minister Albanese, launched the State of Australian Cities 2010 report, which was prepared by Infrastructure Australia's Major Cities Unit.

The Report, draws together existing data and information across a range of economic, social and environmental parameters to provide a national snapshot of the 17 Australian cities with populations over 100,000 at the 2006 Census.

It also highlights emerging trends and issues to promote discussion and debate on managing growth and change in our urban centres.

If you haven't already done so, I urge you to read the report which is available to download from the Department of Infrastructure's web site.


In closing I want to say that one of the things that I always take away from meetings with ACLG, Regional Development Australia members and the passionate individuals here today, is that we can channel our common interests.

Regardless of political background or what State they're from or whether they are city folk or regional, whether they're from big towns or small villages.

There is a united sense of purpose to make a better life and secure the future of their region - and that is a great thing.

This new era of collaboration is prompting many Councils and Shires to lift the bar themselves.

The pressure point now is, what are you doing in your community?

What is it you are doing to reframe your own mechanisms?

How are you rethinking your partnerships and alliances?

How are you rethinking delivery?

Now I know that one of the burning questions that will be discussed here today is amalgamation.

I am personally supportive of amalgamation - where there are low rate bases and it is simply not viable for Councils to stand alone.

I note that Patricia Forsythe, the head of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, says that 42 councils across Sydney makes no sense.

I'm not sure what the right formula is and I'm not prescribing one.

But I do know from experience that people and institutions are better off embracing change and managing that change - rather than just letting it roll over you.

That's something you may want to mull over as you debate the forms of government that can best serve your region in the future.

I know will be a lively debate.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing what you've got to say.