Address to the Australian Local Government Association Congress Gala Dinner

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: I want to start by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the lands on where we meet today – the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people – and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging. I want to also acknowledge all of the fabulous mayors, councillors, CEOs and directors in the room. Thank you so much for being here. I noticed David Elliott, the former Minister for Transport in New South Wales. Regardless of your political stripes, all of us really appreciate the work that local government does right across this great country of ours. It’s fabulous to see someone with your experience in the role that you’re now in, David.

It is fantastic to be with you tonight. As Linda said, many of you know I’m a former mayor of Bega. I absolutely loved my time on council. I am an accidental councillor and an accidental mayor and, in a way, an accidental Member and an accidental Minister. But all of the things and all of the opportunities that I’ve been afforded since I’ve been on the council have been an absolute pleasure to be involved in. Advocating for your local community, as you all know, is incredibly important, and it is tough at times to do your job because there is no stopping people coming to speak to you at the supermarket about their local road. We all know that. I think my record hits 3 hours at Woolworths and involved five phone calls from my husband asking me when I was coming home. I know so many of you absolutely understand that, and that is why we are forever grateful to Coles and Woolworths for Click and Collect, but I absolutely digress.

It is really important that our levels of government are coming together and working collaboratively for the future of our communities. The approach that we have taken since coming to government is that we want to collaborate with local councils. We want to work in partnership with State and Territory governments. We want to make sure that local priorities are first when it comes to funding. One of the things that I am incredibly proud of is the fact that we now have local government back at the table of national cabinet. I thank Linda for her continued – absolute continued advocacy. I know she wants to be there for every meeting of National Cabinet, but we are getting there.

National Cabinet is really focusing on a coordinated approach to development across our cities, our suburbs and our regions. ALGA’s participation in that National Cabinet but also in the Council of Federal Financial Relations is highly valued because we need that direct input from the layer of government that is on the ground talking directly with our communities in every town and village across the country.

In June many of your joined us at the Australian Council of Local Government, and it was fantastic to bring it back for the first time in a decade. Over 200 mayors and councillors from across Australia joined myself and my ministerial colleagues in a range of conversations which stretched from financial sustainability, housing, skills, service delivery and the transition to net zero. As the Prime Minister said at the time, “Local governments are a trusted delivery partner of the services communities rely on. My Government’s priority for cleaner cheaper energy, more affordable housing, skills and training as well as smart infrastructure cannot be achieved without the vital role of councils.”

You’ve got a Prime Minister that absolutely understands local government because he himself has been in this role as Minister for Local Government. Our entire government understand and value the innovation and dedication of local councils. The national local government awards really showcased the locally led projects that you’re delivering across our communities. We celebrated accommodation for key workers, agrifood knowledge, an enterprise hub and virtual work experience program based on industry need. And I can tell you, that virtual work experience program which was delivered by Moreton Bay Regional Council is a real model that we need as a sector to take up. What they did was showcase to year 10, 11 and 12 students the range of career options that are available to them in local councils. It’s incredibly important that we continue to showcase the amazing opportunities that local council can present to our young people and to our workforce going forward.

We know that councils represent local communities, and that representation on that local level is incredibly important for the vibrant future that we want to see delivered across the country. You know – and I don’t have to tell you – that you maintain roads, you deliver essential services, you oversee public infrastructure, you deal with parks and recreational facilities to protect our environment, and when emergencies strike you are front and centre each and every time. You’re relied on not only in response but in recovery as well. I know earlier today you heard from my colleague Carol Brown, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, who spoke in depth about the role of local governments in managing our roads and promoting road safety.

And building on this, I want to talk about the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. Our government committed an additional $250 million to that program through Phase 4 with a particular focus on outer metro, regional and rural councils. It takes the total funding package to $3.25 billion, but one of the things that we wanted to focus on in Phase 4 was making sure that those councils that managed such large road networks were prioritised in that round of funding because it is you people that have been impacted the most by natural disasters, including substantial floods and rain that have impacted our road network so significantly.

We have seen projects through our LRCI funding which includes roads, community halls, parks, sporting facilities, bike paths, playgrounds and accessibility in public amenities. More than 9,500 projects nationwide that are funded, 61 per cent in community infrastructure and 34 per cent on roads and 5 per cent a combination of both. Roads that create local jobs and have lasting impacts right across our communities.

Many of you are familiar with a number of federally funded community infrastructure grant programs, and this year we have delivered on our commitment to have a billion-dollar investment in regional grant funding. We want to focus on improving liveability across our regional towns and cities in partnership with local governments and the communities that you serve. $600 million in the Growing Regions Program which aims at delivering infrastructure and community projects that meet local needs and local priorities. The first of those two $300 million rounds just closed in August and I cannot wait to see what the multi-party panel send through to the formal application stage. A new way of doing things, and really excited to see how that process works through.

We’ve just in the last fortnight announced our $400 million Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program, which will support transformative investment based on the principles of unifying regional places, growing economies and serving our communities. This program again demonstrates a partnership approach we want to take. We’re bringing together government, stakeholders and communities to deliver precincts which are tailored to local needs because there is no better expert on what local communities need than local people.

Grants are available in this program not only for the master planning and design and business cases but also for getting shovels in the ground to make sure that you can deliver on that master planning. So often across local councils we hear that you need money for business case, for planning and design, and this program is delivering both streams of that to make it easier for councils and communities to deliver on their local priorities.

But it’s not just regional communities that are going to benefit from this kind of support; we’re also making our cities and our suburbs more sustainable and more liveable. We have committed $200 million to establish the Thriving Suburbs Program for urban and suburban infrastructure and community projects. It’s a competitive grant round which will provide economic infrastructure to focus on liveability.

More information on that program is coming soon. But we are not only focused on delivering for councils across our regions. That means every council across this country is eligible for a grant program either through Growing Regions or Thriving Suburbs. It’s really important that we are focused on delivering right across this country, and we need local government’s help to continue to do that.

But let’s talk about the future. The future is going to substantially look different than what we have been – than what we’ve come to know. We know that there are major changes happening right across our energy infrastructure, and we know that councils take up the challenge daily when it comes to that energy transition. We know you not only do it in energy but you do it in a whole range of other services as well.

A lot of councils weren’t focused on affordable housing, and now for so many of you that is part of your core business, and I thank you for taking up that challenge on behalf of our country. Priorities like affordable housing, child care, health care, aged care, skills and training, connectivity and smart infrastructure focusing on a future made in Australia are things that you are actively involved in.

I want to praise you for leading the way on so many of the things that other levels of government are now taking up, including that energy transition. Because more than three-quarters of Australian councils have set or are developing community emission reduction targets with the commitment that anything other than net zero is not acceptable.

You are already investing in clean energy solutions to create jobs and increase resilience because you know it’s your infrastructure that takes a hit when we’re not ready on a resilience or a mitigation footing.

It is one of the reasons we have partnered with local councils to deliver the $100 million Community Energy Upgrades Fund, because we need to improve energy efficiency and reduce your operating costs in the meantime as well. We are going to do this through co-funding efficiency and electrification upgrades of council facilities. Grants like this, which will help councils to fast-track their net zero commitments, that will help you to reduce your energy costs and that will help you put your dollars into other services on the ground.

We know council pools cost a lot of money to run, and we want to help you make sure that you’ve got more energy-efficient heating in your council pools. We want to help you install energy efficiency in your sporting fields, in your libraries, in your communities centres and improving your overall costs of running your organisation. We are in the process of developing those guidelines at this point in time, and the program will begin later this year.

And as I mentioned, local government we know plays an essential role in our housing agenda. All of our communities are impacted by housing shortages and all levels of government have to play their part. ALGA is a signatory to the National Housing Accord bringing local governments and the role they play in providing housing to the table in this landmark agreement. In August national cabinet announced the Housing Support Program. I want to thank councils for their continued advocacy on this matter. A $500 million fund which will help local councils and state and territory governments to deal with that essential enabling infrastructure to get housing development on its way.

We want to make sure that housing developments are in well-located areas through targeted investment. We want to connect essential services and amenities and support new housing developments and build planning capability through this fund. Without your continued advocacy things like this don’t happen. So please continue your advocacy to government on a range of these measures because it does make a difference.

Whether we’re talking about roads, community infrastructure, energy transition, housing or essential services, we’re all focused on building stronger, smarter and safer communities and building a better future for all where no one is left behind.

We can’t realise our ambitions as a government without partnering with people who know local communities better. That’s where your level of government comes in. So thank you for your service to our communities across the country. Thank you for dealing with the numerous questions you get at Coles and Woolworths, and thank you for your continued advocacy to our government, which makes a difference. Thank you.