| June 18, 2018

Financial Assistance Grants

 It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to rise and talk on this issue in relation to local government funding. It is certainly an area that's very dear to me, because I spent a large part of my political career in the state parliament, building relationships with local governments right around Victoria. As Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development to the Minister for Regional Development, I had the opportunity to meet every regional local government in Victoria. There are 48 of them which are clearly defined as being outside the metropolitan zones. They were eligible for the $500 million Regional Growth Fund that we had going in Victoria. They were also eligible for a $160 million program for building better roads and bridges in the regions. Immediately upon coming to government, the state Labor Party scrapped that $160 million Country Roads and Bridges Program. It was a program that gave all of the councils the opportunity to spend in the vicinity of $4 million each on their roads and bridges, which would normally be a cost that would fall back on them.

There's no doubt that regional councils have been struggling recently. The greatest indication here, and the evidence that we heard when we took the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation on the road, was the impact of the state Labor government in Victoria introducing a cap on rates. That measure was put in place to stop the enormous councils in Melbourne who had hundreds and hundreds of employees spending tens and hundreds of millions on payrolls, which were getting bigger. That was an idea to try to stop their spending, with that spending flowing over to a continual increase in rates. In order to stop these large, monolithic councils in Melbourne, all of a sudden, a one-size-fits-all blanket funding cap for regional councils was put in place. It affected every regional council, who no longer had the ability to deliver the services that were needed. I'm a little bit disappointed that the member for Indi didn't include that in her contribution, although I did come into the chamber part way through her speech. She may very well have listed the impacts of rate capping on the ability of regional councils to deliver the services that they need.

This is the biggest issue that we have. Although we did put a freeze on increases, we have been able to keep funding programs such as the Roads to Recovery Program, possibly the most popular funding program for all regional councils because they have control over where that money goes. We also have the Bridges Renewal Program, the Building Better Regions Fund, the Regional Growth Fund, and a Stronger Communities Program. The electorate of Murray has been very strongly supported through these projects. There are also the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages, which my area of Hume was very well supported by. That has enabled the Moira shire to get a $2½ million grant for a tourism project at Yarrawonga which is going to see 2½ kilometres of walking space around Lake Mulwala. That will be an amazing project that will enable tourism to go ahead in the big area around the lake. Other funding programs that have gone through include tourism projects. The Shepparton council will have a major truck museum funded by the federal government.

The federal government introduced this freeze on increases in its assistance grants solely to bring the budget under control. We have done that. Now the small percentage of funding that goes to local government from the federal government is going to be increased. Over $800 million will flow into local governments in the very near future. It's a sensible way to go about funding local governments. As I say, the major portion of funding is derived from the states.

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