28th National General Assembly of Local Government, Canberra, 19-22 June 2022
The National General Assembly (NGA) of Local Government is convened annually by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). This year, over 1,000 mayors and councillors from across Australia attended the event, providing a unique opportunity for local government to engage directly with the Federal Government to develop national policy, and to influence the future direction of local governments and communities.
This year’s theme was Partners in Progress – with a focus on partnerships, particularly between the Australian Government and local governments. The NGA is an important opportunity for local government to tackle local issues at the national level, to strengthen the voice of local government at the national level, and to engage directly with ministers, federal members, and senior bureaucrats in the Australian Public Service.
This year’s Business Papers included over 100 motions on a wide range of issues including intergovernmental relations, finance, transport, infrastructure, managing growth, energy, health and ageing, natural disasters, climate change, closing the gap, circular economy and waste, water and the environment, arts and culture, workforce, and taxation reform.
The program also included several keynote speakers, including:
- The Hon. Catherine King MP, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.
- The Hon Linda Burney MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians.
- Senator Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency Management.
- Mr David Littleproud MP, Leader of the Federal National Party.
Other keynote speakers included Mr Stan Grant, journalist and author; Dr Marcus Spiller, SGS Economics and Planning; Jody Broun, CEO of National Indigenous Australians Agency; and Dr Jonathan Carr-West, CEO of LGIU. Michelle Tjondro from SGS Economics and Planning was part of a panel session on Tuesday afternoon and presented an overview of the National Local Government Workforce Skills and Capability Survey that SGS is currently finalising for ALGA.
We were able to sit in on some of the keynote speakers, including Marcus Spiller, Stan Grant, Michelle Tjondro, Linda Burney, and Jodie Broun.
Marcus Spiller’s presentation on local government’s productivity, drawing on work undertaken for ALGA, generated quite a bit of interest. Marcus’s presentation included the following points, that:
- Local government is arguably the most productive sector in Australia’s three tier system of governance.
- Local government plays an indispensable role in the productivity of the wider economy in both its infrastructure and regulatory functions and as a provider of last resort in many communities.
- Local government could do even better if the constraints placed on it by other sectors were loosened (e.g. rate capping in NSW and Victoria), reasonable vertical and horizontal fiscal equalisation were put in place, and cost sharing was abandoned.
- Empowerment of local government in keeping with the subsidiarity principle is required, rather than ham-fisted top-down responses like rate capping and forced amalgamations.
These messages were certainly well received by the audience.
Stan Grant spoke very eloquently about global democracy. He said that liberal democratic order is under threat from several sources, including from the rise of authoritarianism and autocracy, and from within because liberal democracies have lost sight of the plain meaning of the word ‘liberal’. He reminded the audience that liberal democracy provides a place for freedom, and that local government is the lifeblood of local democracy. He also said that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is an idea about democracy because the First Nations people have said they want to be in it. He urged the audience to think about what that means for ourselves, to bring a voice to the voiceless.
Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, also addressed the Assembly and issued an invitation for local governments to join with First Australians in hosting local meetings and discussions about the Uluru Statement. Interestingly, later the same day the Assembly passed a motion calling on the Australian Government to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for Indigenous constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament, and for ALGA to work with the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s campaign to develop a resource kit for local governments seeking to host public forums to inform their communities about the proposed referendum.
Michelle Tjondro gave an update on the 2022 National Local Government Skills and Workforce Survey being undertaken for the Australian Local Government Association and the State and Territory Local Government Associations. The 2022 survey was funded by the Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, and was modelled on the previous survey conducted in 2017. The survey sought to obtain information about where skills gaps and shortages occur, which occupational areas are most affected, how this changed since 2017, what factors are shaping these trends, and how local governments are responding. The final report will include an in-depth analysis and breakdown of results.
Early insights into the sector show that nationally, there are continuing occupational shortages with engineers, urban and town planners, building surveyors, environmental health officers, supervisors and team leaders. The most common underlying drivers of skills gaps include an ageing workforce, lack of trainees, and an inability to compete with private sector remuneration. Almost two thirds of respondents experienced unmet training needs (a slight increase from 2017), and there continues to be a higher proportion of males in full-time and apprenticeship and traineeship roles compared to a higher proportion of women are in part-time and casual roles. Considerations for the future Local Government workforce include whether to upskill the existing staff or recruit new staff, the need for soft skills, opportunities arising from digital transformation, the benefits of reimagining roles and structures, and of building a skills collective within local government.
Finally, Jonathan Carr-West in his keynote talked about the need for connected localism – local action but with an understanding of the global context. Local governments are well placed to drive change as governors of place. Local government’s success lies in a focus on place and connections. In an age of decreasing trust in institutions, there is a need for an uncompromising focus on local participation to ensure that citizens voices are being heard and local government can do this better than other levels of government. Even though they are creations of the state, local governments are democratically elected institution and need to lean on their democratically constituted local authority. There is also the opportunity for strategic partnerships to address collective issues. Ultimately, we need global understanding, with local action, and we need to make local places matter.
LGiU Australia had a stand in the Exhibition Hall this year, along with over 70 other exhibitors. The booth was attended by Jonathan Carr-West, CEO of LGIU, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen from Breckland District Council, Chair of the District Councils Network and Board member of LGIU, Dr Ed Wensing, and Michelle Tjondro and Claire Davies from SGS Economics and Planning.
It was a great chance to share the benefits of membership of LGIU. Several Councillors who were originally from the UK and already knew about LGIU also dropped by to meet and/or reconnect with Jonathan and Sam, and to learn about what LGIU is doing in Australia.