Address to the Australian Local Government Association's Regional Cooperation and Development Forum


It’s wonderful to join you today at the 2024 National General Assembly.

It feels like it was just last week that we were marking last year’s event.

And how much have we achieved over the last year – working together.

I’d like to start off by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands where we meet today.

I pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and I extend that respect to any First Nations people in attendance.  

I would like to thank local representatives who’ve come today, especially those that have travelled a fair way to be here. 

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with over 250 councils directly since we came to government.

A number that’s quickly growing this week – because face-to-face engagement is incredibly important.

It’s how you can best articulate your unique challenges and opportunities.

It’s how the Albanese Government can reaffirm our commitment to working with you, as a trusted delivery partner.

And the NGA’s theme this week of building community trust is something we take seriously.

It’s why we’ve brought local government back to the table.

It’s why we’re having productive conversations about what works and what doesn’t work in our regions. 

Cooperation and collaboration are how effective partnerships work.

And as far as partners go, I know first-hand, you can’t find a better partner than local government – especially those from our regions.

That’s because regional people are talented, they’re innovators, and they aren’t afraid to give things a go.

I know this because I’ve spent my whole life in regional Australia.

I’m now proud to represent my regional electorate in Federal Parliament.

Before this, I spent a number of years working in a regional council – both as a councillor and Mayor, in the Bega Valley in NSW.

This has given me a pretty unique lens on the need for collaboration across all levels of government.

And it’s why I understand that right now is a pivotal time for the future of both the local government sector, but also for regional communities. 

It’s why the Albanese Government is making significant and targeted investments, to drive economic growth and liveability outside of our big cities.

From cost of living relief right now, to strengthening the capacity of local councils to get better outcomes and services in our communities, along with developing policies across portfolios to unlock a range of long-term benefits.

I’ll be talking about this over the coming days, but our investments are building stronger regions.

We’re making roads safer, boosting housing supply, building more in our own backyard, and investing in skills development in our regions.

Every cent counts, and we know that in our regions, communities are calling on local councils for more and more services.

This adds to the huge footprint that regional councils have to manage.

As Federal Minister, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of these regional and remote locations. 

Places like Alice Springs, where the Central Desert Regional Council provides services to 12 communities and over 4,200 people.

Across an area of nearly 300,000 kilometres – absolutely huge.

They’re responsible for a range of services – from roads, youth development programs, cultural and music workshops.

Through to the development of a laundry facility to support mining operations.

It’s a council doing a lot with a little – and at the heart of this, has been strong community engagement.

A council focused on building community trust and bringing locals along – to ensure their services hit the mark. 

The Albanese Government values hard work like this, and we’re investing in it.

Through our Regional Investment Framework – we’re delivering strategic and coordinated investments across portfolios.

We’ve significantly increased Commonwealth road programs.

We’ve launched new and transparent grant opportunities for local councils. 

And we’ve welcomed the Parliamentary Inquiry into local government sustainability, which will build on the direct feedback we’ve received over the last two years.

It will help inform how we strengthen our partnership into the future, because local government is at the heart of our clear vision for regional Australia.

We’re putting our money where our mouth is, with our recent Budget building on the 350 regional initiatives we committed to in our first two years of government.

134 initiatives across all portfolios that will benefit regional Australia.

This includes our $22.7 billion Future Made in Australia plan – which the regions will be front and centre of. 

A plan that will leverage the competitive advantages outside of our big cities, stimulate regional economies, and forge significant investment opportunities.

This includes $8 billion over the next decade to put Australia on the path to being a global player in hydrogen.

$7 billion to strengthen our critical minerals sector.

$853 million to grow Australian solar manufacturing.

And nearly $550 million to transform Australia’s battery industry.

All big numbers, but a tangible impact in our regional communities – which is exactly what our Regional Investment Framework is focused on.

It’s us working with communities, and with local councils, to build that shared goal, and to unlock each region’s unique strengths.

Such as in places like Punchs Creek in the Toowoomba Region, where an 800 megawatt solar farm will support up to 340 direct jobs during construction, and generate enough energy to power 300,000 homes.

It’s one of the many projects that is building on Labor’s record of boosting local manufacturing, harnessing economic opportunities, and making our regions more productive.

We heard loud and clear from regional councils that they wanted more support to get community-led projects off the ground.

Those of you in the room told us that you wanted this done with integrity and with transparency.

And that’s what we’ve done.

$207 million is flowing under the first Round of our Growing Regions Program.

$15 million for Stage One of the Seymour Community Wellbeing Hub in Victoria.

$1.6 million for the Noosa Regional Trail Upgrade in Queensland

$2.1 million for the Copper Coast Regional Aquatic Facility in South Australia.

Details on the next round will be made available later this year.

On top of this, six projects are being funded under the first batch of our  Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program.

This includes $26.3 million to the Shire of Broome in Western Australia for the Cable Beach Foreshore Redevelopment.

And $650,000 to Swan Hill Rural City Council in Victoria to transform the Heart of Swan Hill Precinct.

Each of these projects have been long campaigned for.

And we’ve funded them as part of our commitment to work with communities and councils, to effectively deliver the priority infrastructure regional Australians want to get off the ground.

Speaking about the ground – and specifically roads, we know that our regional road networks are ageing and under more demand than ever.

Unlike our city neighbours, we can’t exactly walk to all of our appointments or to do the groceries.

That’s why we’ve worked with councils to progressively increase our Roads to Recovery Program from $500 million to $1 billion per year.

And we’ve had an overwhelming response from the sector.

Temora Shire Council said this extra money is a significant contribution to the enhancement and maintenance of their roads, and will have a positive impact in their community.

And Liverpool Plains Shire Council said the funding boost will support much-needed upgrades on their local road network.

We’re also increasing our Road Spot Program from $110 million to $150 million per year.

And we’re launching our new, $200 million Safer Local Roads and Infrastructure Program.

Funding increases to give councils more options to progress their priority projects.

And for so many of our regional and remote communities, I know that council-owned airports and aerodromes are a vital link for goods and services.

That’s why we’ve extended the Regional Airports Program with an additional $40 million.

And added an additional $50 million to the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program. 

These programs are already supporting vital improvements in our regions.

The District Council of Ceduna in South Australia will upgrade their runway surface and lighting. 

And Queensland’s Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council will upgrade their airport lighting.

Of course, one of the biggest things people talk to me about is the need for more housing.

Housing is central to building communities, and to attracting and retaining the workforces we need.

We know our regions are growing, with new data showing that close to 40 per cent of our population now live in our regions. 

We know that we can’t solve housing shortages overnight, but we’re getting on with the job.

We’ve invested $32 billion in housing initiatives since 2022 – the biggest investment in over a decade.

1.2 million new homes to be built over the next five years, including many in our regions.

As a former Councillor and Mayor in the Bega Valley, I recognise the importance of having local government at the table on housing. 

It’s why we launched our Housing Support Program, which will support local government to get that enabling infrastructure underway and build more homes sooner – with $500 million in funding.

Building houses starts with tradies – and it’s no secret, they’re hard to come by at the moment in our regions.

We’re delivering an additional 20,000 fee-free TAFE places in the construction sector.

This builds on the 24,000 fee-free construction places secured to date.

And more broadly, across vocations, we’ve supported 100,000 regional people already secure fee-free TAFE.

Adding an additional 300,000 places nationally through to 2026 will see that number continue to grow. 

We want people to train in their own backyard, and to keep working locally, including in the local government sector.

These investments will make that happen. 

And before I wrap up, I know that when it comes to our net zero future and the need to be on the front foot, nobody is louder than the local government sector.

For a long time, there was little-to-no consultation with communities on how such a thing would be done – especially in our regions.

That’s why we commissioned the independent Community Engagement Review.

We accepted all recommendations, and are investing over $20 million to ensure we improve community consultation…

Something that really speaks to the importance of building community trust. 

Local government are a key contribution to our successful transition.

This includes consulting on the Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Consultation Roadmap.

I encourage you to register for July 18 public webinar, and to provide a submission by July 26 through my department’s website.

There’s nothing worse than a tick the box exercise, or decisions being made for you from Canberra –something we’re changing. 

This is part of our proud record of standing up for regional people.

There is no better partner than local government. 

Your central to delivering the change we want to make in our regions.

Thank you for your commitment to your community, and for championing the potential of a strong collaboration between all levels of government.

I look forward to catching up with all of you over the next few days.