Address to Australian Local Government Association: National General Assembly

MONDAY, 21 JUNE 2021

Last year, after the bushfires and before COVID, Albo took the whole Shadow Cabinet down to Batemans Bay.
We went there to look at the damage the fires had done.
The damage it did to the bush and homes was pretty obvious.
But what we all came away with was, I think, a deeper understanding of the impact it had on the people who fought it. 
One of those people was Warren Sharpe.
He is the Director of Infrastructure Services at Eurobodalla Council.
He is also the LEMO, the Local Emergency Management Officer.
He has been at the Council now for more than 36 years.
For 79 days in those suffocating charcoal skies of December, January and February last year, he was on the front line.
On a 24 hour roster, coordinating the fight against an enemy that torched almost 80 per cent the Council.
That sort of pressure takes its toll and when we caught up with him in Batemans Bay, it showed.
As he briefed Shadow Cabinet, telling stories he had never told publicly before, he broke down and cried. He sobbed.
It reminded me, if I needed reminding, that local government isn’t a desk job.
When we talk about frontline workers, we often think about fire fighters, police, nurses, and the SES. People in uniform.
We don’t usually think about people who work in local government. But we should.
Whether it’s fires, floods, a mouse plague or a plague like COVID, local government is always there.
You don’t get enough thank yous for everything you do… So, thank you.
Thank yous are easy to give.
If we win the next election I want to do more than that.
If we win the next election, we will put local government on National Cabinet.
The decision of this Government to remove local government from the national decision making body is an insult to every Mayor, Shire President and Councillor here and right across Australia. 
It also just doesn’t make sense.
Local Government was part of COAG for as long as it existed and it worked pretty well.
National Cabinet is supposed to replace it. It is supposed to bring together governments around the country to tackle the big issues.
Well, the big issues we face require your help and advice too.
Just how much better do you think the vaccine rollout would be going if you and your local governments were more involved?
Giving local governments money to build roads and local infrastructure to stimulate the economy and speed up recovery is good, but it’s not enough.
You deserve a seat at the big table, not kid’s table.
Two years ago, when I spoke at this conference, I mentioned that when Albo gave me the job of Shadow Minister for Local Government he said the key word here is ‘partnership’.
We have got to work like partners. Not one level of government up here and another down there.
Putting local government on National Cabinet is an example of that. It gives that word ‘partnership’ meaning.
And so does this.
I can announce today that if we win the next election, we will re-establish the Australian Council of Local Government.
For those who don’t remember, this was created by Albo when he was Minister for Local Government.
It was an annual meeting with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Mayors, Shire Presidents and local government stakeholders, engaging directly on matters of significance to local and federal governments.
I haven’t met anyone who thinks it was a bad idea except the current government. They abolished it.
If we win, it will be back.
Of course, partnership involves more than just being at the same table and listening to each other.
It also means working together.
It makes sense that this is the theme of this conference.
I mentioned COVID, but there are a lot of other things we should be working on together.
Everything from waste and recycling, to roads and rail, to black spots, to disaster management, to constitutional recognition.
Here’s another one: housing.
There isn’t much that is more important than having a roof over your head and that’s getting harder.
It’s harder to buy a home today than ever before.
It’s also harder to rent than ever before. 
And this is not just a problem in the big cities, it’s an even bigger problem outside them.
Price rises in the regions are double what they are in the big cities. 
Rent increases in the regions are even bigger.  They’re triple what they are in the cities.
Why? Well, we have been trying to encourage people to move from the cities to the regions for years. Last year it happened. Big time.
The number of people who moved from cities to the regions last year was more than double what it was the year before.
If you’re a Mayor in regional Australia, you know what that means. In some places there is almost nothing to rent and if you can find something, the prices are through the roof. 
I was in Coffs Harbour recently with the Mayor, Denise Knight.
The rental vacancy rate there is less than one per cent.
I heard the story of one place where there was a queue 50 people out the front wanting to inspect this place to rent.
The person who got the lease paid the rent 12 months in advance and took out a personal loan to do it.
Just north of there in Byron Bay I heard this story: Byron Bay doesn’t have a refuge for women fleeing domestic violence and the local Police Commander reckons there are 400 women in town sleeping in their cars.
Here’s another story that was in the Cairns Post last week: ‘Rental crisis leaves family out on the street’.
This was the photo in the paper. 
They’re not backpackers trying to hitch a ride.
It’s a mum and a dad, their 13-year-old daughter, and the family dog, Sparty, on the side of the Captain Cook Highway, holding up a sign that says:
‘Wanted. 2 bed rental. Small fam + dog. Mobile number’.
That’s how desperate things are there.
They are just a few stories. This sort of thing is happening right across Australia. This is a genuine housing crisis.
It’s not easy to fix. 
There are lots of things we need to do if we want to fix this. One of them is build more affordable housing and build more social housing.
That’s why we announced last month that if we win the next election, we will establish a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund.
In the first five years, it will build 20,000 social housing homes and, of those, 4000 will be for women and kids fleeing domestic violence.
In the first five years, it will also build 10,000 affordable homes for the heroes of the last 12 months; frontline workers. People like Warren Sharpe.
People who don’t get to work from home. 
People who put a uniform on every morning and often have to travel long distances to get to work.
Why? Because they work in places where they can’t afford to live.
Think about this: there isn’t one local government area in Sydney or Newcastle or Wollongong today that has a median house price that is affordable for an early career registered nurse.  
Front line workers are also more likely other workers to live more than 30 kilometres away from where they work.
In Sydney, about 44,000 front line workers commute more than 30 kilometres to work, 16,000 travel more than 50 kilometres to work.
In Melbourne it’s almost as bad – 38,000 front line workers commute more than 30 kilometres to work, more than 10,000 travel more than 50 kilometres to work.
It’s not good for these workers, or the millions of people who rely on them for our cities, to work like this.
Building more affordable housing closer to where people work will help and to do this we need your help.
Federal Government, State Government and Local Government all working together on everything from land supply and development to zoning and approvals.
I started today talking about local government being bumped from National Cabinet.
Believe it or not, there is no meeting of the Federal Housing Minister and State Housing and Planning Ministers.
If we win the next election there will be, and I want local government there too.
Its first task will be the development of a National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
To make it easier to buy a house, easier to rent, and put a roof over the heads of Australians who don’t have one.
And I want to develop it with you. Working together.
Just finally, congratulations Linda on your election as the President of ALGA.
We have known each other for a long time.  I can’t think of anybody I know who is a greater champion of local government than you and it shows in the work you have already done in your first seven months as President.
I am hoping in the next few months I will be able to work with you and everyone here as the Minister for Local Government.
Can I also thank David O’Loughlin, the former President of ALGA. I have really enjoyed working with you.
Finally, can I thank Adrian Beresford-Wylie who is leaving ALGA at the end of this conference after 15 years at ALGA. Another day and a half to go.
Have a great Conference and thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you today.