National Forum of Local Government Grants Commission, Brisbane

Thanks, Paul (Bell). I’d like to acknowledge Stirling Hinchliffe that’s here, it’s always good to have a fellow Member of Parliament here. Paul, thank you for your welcome. I'm pretty sure you were the president of ALGA when I was mayor of Gwydir. So that's 2004, from memory.

I came to this job through local government. If you go back to my first speech in February 2008, I mentioned two things: a better deal for local government, and a railway line from Melbourne to Brisbane. So the railway line is under construction, and I’m certainly determined that I can be an advocate for local government in Canberra.

I have a varied portfolio. For those that don’t know, I’m Regional Services, so regional health, regional telecommunications, regional education. So what couldn't possibly be an issue in any of those? I got off a plane last night from- I'm also Assistant Trade Minister, Local Government, Decentralisation - and I got off a plane last night and the first thing was: what are you going to do about the Telstra phone lines? So we do get a variety of things. But it's a great opportunity because all those- it's a broad portfolio, but it's all focused on the regions.

I'm here today to try and get a better understanding of the processes, of how funding the local government works. And naively, I didn't even know that every state had a slightly different approach to the way they dealt with grants. And so why I'm here today: to get a better understanding of that. I am interested in regional local governments, because in the regions - and this is from my own experience - local government is far more than it is. Private enterprise and state and federal governments quite often provide services.

I look out the window here, the local government doesn't here need to manage an aged care facility. But if you are at Warialda, or Condobolin, or somebody like Chinchilla, local government would be involved in this, because there's no one else to do that. And so you know we've got small populations, large infrastructure responsibilities.

David visits me every week. And I say to him: he needs to be alert but not alarmed. I'm not someone that's going to try and do radical things that are upsetting the apple cart. But I am interested to find out how we can, as a Federal Government, if there's a way to assist you here today in what you do, if there’s issues that need the assistance of the Federal Department or my office to overcome problems that you might be dealing with, then I'm offering that service here today.

I, unfortunately, won't be able to stay for a long time. But Chris and Josh from the Federal Department- Josh is here, Chris is here – are here for the duration, so they will be listening carefully and taking copious notes, and we’ll have a debrief on that when I get back to Canberra in a couple of weeks.

So I guess I'm here to learn, I'm here to offer my services, and try ultimately, if we can do a better deal for local government, I’m quite prepared to take proposals to Cabinet. But I'm not going to do that in a half-baked fashion.

I’ll wait until we've put something that has the support of local government. And obviously, you are the engine room that makes those things happen. So I'm sure it's going to be a fruitful couple of days and I look forward to hearing the outcome of this meeting when it’s over.

Thank you very much.