Address to the Local Government Association of Queensland's annual conference

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s a real pleasure to be with you, even if it is only virtually, given that it is a Parliamentary sitting week and hard for me to be there with you. Although, I would have liked to have been there for dinner tonight, with the non-“speechified” dinner. That sounds like absolutely my type of gig.

I want to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on where you are today and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging, and pay my respects to any First Nations people with you today in the conference.

A big thank you to LGAQ for putting this on, to Mayor Mark Jamieson, to Alison Smith, Local Mayor Matt Burnett, to everyone in the room today, a big thank you for having me virtually.

It’s always a great honour and a pleasure of mine to be able to come to as many local government events as I can. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I can’t get to be with you, but through the power of technology, I can still have a chat to you.

We know that local government is a key delivery partner of the Federal Government, and I’m very excited that you are coming together again for this conference to talk about your shared opportunities, your shared challenges and how we can work together with shared strategies to address some of these issues.

Throughout my time as Minister, I’ve met with over 250 councils directly, over 60 of those from the Sunshine State, and over 40 bodies who are directly invested in this sector in the Sunshine State as well. It’s a huge honour to hold the portfolio, but even more so, it’s an honour to be in a position where I can bring local government back to the table with the Federal Government, back to having those direct conversations about our shared opportunities and our shared challenges and some of the ways we can work together to move this sector forward – because you represent every town and village across the country. You’re providing services to them day in, day out. We appreciate all the work that you do.

As I said to a conference in Victoria only last week, as a local Member, a local Councillor, you do get pulled up in every Woolworths or Coles or Aldi you go to and you’re asked a bunch of questions, which usually start with a preface, “I don’t normally do this, but...” And the reason your constituents do that is because they feel so incredibly proud to know you. They know that you can help them with their local issue and they know you’ll get back to them. So, thank you for putting your hand up to be an elected member in the local government sector. It is one that has its challenges, but one we are all incredibly proud to work within.

As I said, we’re bringing local councils back to the table. We re-established the Australian Council of Local Governments, and in June we came together. It was so good to see so many people giving their ideas directly to government and questioning government on the policies that we know will impact towns and villages right across this country.

It’s a two-way dialogue, and as you heard directly from the Prime Minister on that day, you are a trusted delivery partner. We will achieve our ambitions as a government when we are working with the local government sector. Ambitions that look at economic diversification, clean energy transition, better jobs and skills for our communities and dealing with that infrastructure and service backlog that we know there are across so many of our communities. In the Prime Minister you have a former Minister for Local Government, somebody who understands the sector, gets it and wants to work with you.

We know that there are so many programs that we are developing to help local councils deliver for your communities. The Community Energy Upgrade Fund, $100 million where we want to help councils electrify their businesses, bring down carbon emissions and, most importantly, bring down the costs of running council assets. We’ve seen some fantastic projects already underway across councils, things like energy-efficient sports lights, things like energy-efficient heating pumps for all those pools we’ve got across the country. It’s so exciting to see that we are partnering directly with you to help you with that energy transition.

Over 75 per cent of councils across the country already have net zero plans. It’s a sector that was well advanced when discussions about net zero started. It’s a sector that actually has been on the front foot for a long period of time.

I know that the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program has been incredibly important to so many people in the room today. Projects that are supporting local jobs, boosting local economies and improving the liveability of our regions. We added an additional $250 million to that program through Phase Four. $95 million has already been delivered to Queensland councils with more than 1,300 projects happening across Queensland in Phases One to Three. An additional $151.5 million flowing to councils under Phase Four.

It’s really exciting to see those projects underway. Projects like Rosea Park Stage One, which includes an all-abilities playground, skate parks, picnic shelters, toilet blocks, landscaping and improved car park. $9 million in federal funding making that happen by mid-2024. In Gladstone where you are today, $525,000 to improve bike and pedestrian access along Barney Point Road, works that are going to be completed very soon.

We’ve got a tonne of regional grants programs already underway. We’ve got a billion dollars in regional funding that is flowing – $600 million in the Growing Regions Fund, Phase One of that program has just closed. We are doing things differently. There’s a multi-party panel from across Parliament that is working on those initial expressions of interest. Councils will be asked very soon if they’ve passed that expression of interest phase, to move towards a full application phase. We’d love to hear back from you how that process has worked for your council. We are trying new things to make the grants program more transparent, and we’d love your feedback on how Phase One of Growing Regions has worked.

We’ve also got the $400 million Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program. Currently out for expressions of interest and application. Really keen to look at what is coming in in those programs. We’ve got our $200 million Thriving Suburbs Program which will open shortly, and then obviously the Urban Precincts and Partnerships Program as well. For the first time ever, grants programs are available to every council across the country, whether you’re in regional Australia or metro Australia, which is so exciting.

We know that disaster is part and parcel of core business now for councils. During the response and the recovery phase, communities want to hear directly from their local leaders and directly from councils about what’s happening. We’ve advanced $1.8 billion in disaster payments already to states and territories across the country in anticipation of the upcoming bushfire season. We know it’s important to make sure we’re on the front foot here, which is why my colleague, a very proud Queenslander, Minister Murray Watt, has been working with stakeholders right across the emergency management sector, including with local governments, on how we can help you when disaster strikes.

The funding will support Queensland councils fast track their local repair works during times of disaster. Whether that be floods, fires or cyclones. We all have a shared ambition to build stronger, more resilient communities. Communities that are safer, are smarter, that are diversified. We can’t, as I said, create that future without partnering with the local government sector. I want to thank you again for the work that you do in your local communities.

As I’ve discussed today, you really are a key and a trusted delivery partner when we talk about programs that deal with things like roads and bridges, when we talk about community halls, town halls and sporting precincts and, most importantly, when we are talking about natural disaster response and recovery.

I hope you have a really productive conversation today in the room. Again, I’m sorry I can’t be with you, but I have no doubt I’ll be catching up with many more councils from across Queensland over the next few years.