New book addresses local government sustainability crisis

Published 16 August 2013

New book addresses local government sustainability crisis

A book just launched at the University of New England could not be any more timely or topical, with local councils facing infrastructure renewal backlogs that they cannot afford and many having recently been described as less than sustainable. The Federation Press published “Funding the Future – Financial Sustainability and Infrastructure Finance in Australian Local Government” was co-authored by Professor Brian Dollery, Dr Michael Kortt and Dr Bligh Grant, of the Centre for Local Government at UNE. Member for Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall officially launched the new resource.

“This is a very important book,” Mr Marshall said. “It accurately and comprehensively encapsulates the plight of local government, nationally. It also looks at constructive ways to address the financial sustainability issues confronting our councils, as highlighted by the infrastructure backlog in NSW.”

“It’s great that the expertise for this book has come from regional universities because regional councils struggle with infrastructure cost burdens more starkly.”

Professor Brian Dollery said the book does not merely look at finance issues in councils. “We look at potential solutions. We assessed various proposals for dealing with endemic infrastructure backlogs and came up with our own proposal,” he said. “We present a case for a National Local Government Finance Authority. This authority would be guaranteed through Federal Government backing. It would be financed through the sale of bonds, loans from superannuation funds and the corporate sector. Interest on loans from this authority would be lower than bank financing. The cost burden of infrastructure renewal can be spread, cost-effectively, through time.”

“Our Centre for Local Government at UNE plays an important role in Australian local government. We are the only such centre that looks in-depth, with high quality research, into local structure, finance and reform. An independent local government review panel has recommended amalgamations across NSW, on the back of no research at all. We are working to make policy decisions more informed, through first-class research.”

Co-author, Michael Kortt from Southern Cross University’s Business School said nationally, cost estimates of resolving local government infrastructure backlogs could be upwards of $15 billion. “We need a mechanism created so that local governments have an option where they can access affordable loans for capital expenditure. Our bond bank idea would be a sustainable solution,” he said.

The backlog issue was the primary reason why Armidale Dumaresq Council Mayor, Cr. Jim Maher recently opposed amalgamation with Guyra, Uralla and Walcha Shires. He said that due to backlogs in those councils, Armidale Dumaresq ratepayers would be taking on a massive burden.

Mr Marshall said he was honoured to launch “Funding the Future”, adding that it is relevant and timely. “The review panel within the current local Government reform process will release its report to the Minister for Local Government next month. This book confirms my belief that amalgamation is not the answer, particularly in regards to infrastructure backlogs and financial sustainability,” he said.

Image: Head of the Centre for Local Government at UNE, Professor Brian Dollery, Member for Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall and Dr Michael Kortt from Southern Cross University’s Business School.

For further information please contact Prof. Brian Dollery: 02 6773 2500