President's Message 20 September 2019

OUR REPORT TO YOU – The LGNSW Annual Report 2018/19 is out now, showing our continuing commitment to providing effective advocacy and tailored services that deliver value to all our members. Significant advocacy wins include: an extra $60m in library funding; a commitment from government to produce a circular economy strategy; an additional $1b for local roads and country bridges; $150m in new public parks; $400m for regional telecommunications towers; an additional $355m for drought assistance; postponement of the low-rise medium density housing code; $100m in extra funding through the Stronger Country Communities program – with half for regional youth; a commitment from government to take back up to 15,000km of regional roads; and helping to secure $1m for live music. We also continue to provide expert advice and assistance to our members through a range of services including industrial relations and legal advice, professional development, training and learning programs, and human resources and executive services. Read the full report.

LGNSW ANNUAL CONFERENCE – There are just two weeks left to register for this year’s annual conference (Warwick Farm, 14-16 October) which opens with a welcome reception on Monday 14 October from 6pm at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Tickets are still available for the Meet the Politicians Breakfast (Monday 14 October, 7-9.30am) and with the NSW Premier, Deputy Premier, Local Government Minister, Opposition Leader and Shadow Local Government Minister all confirmed to attend we’re guaranteed a fascinating debate. Our councillor training workshops are fully booked but we have added other preopening events to the program. See our Weekly item for full details and to register. Meanwhile, motions have closed with a record 300 submissions received for consideration! Thank you to everyone who contributed.

ADVOCACY WIN: ELECTORAL FUNDING – I’m thrilled to report another major advocacy win for the sector, this time regarding local government election costs.  Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock this week announced councils will only pay the direct costs of local government elections – items such as polling booth staff, venue hire and ballot paper printing - in 2020. Other costs will be carried by the NSW Election Commission (NSWEC), which will receive additional funding of $19.9m. Given the original IPART recommendation that councils pay 62 per cent more for the 2020 elections, this is very good news indeed. Instead of asking councils to carry some of the NSWEC’s core costs such as staff payroll, training, maintenance of the electoral roll, and IT systems development, the government has instead opted for a transparent, fair and sensible solution for the upcoming council elections. It’s another example of the impact our advocacy has when we speak with a united voice, and I thank Minister Hancock for driving this important reform. But it’s important this funding continues beyond 2020, otherwise councils may find themselves forced to fund elections by cutting services or reducing infrastructure maintenance. We will also work closely with the Minister to represent the sector on issues such as electronic nominations and vote-counting, universal postal voting and shorter prepoll periods. See our media release.
 
ADVOCACY WIN: LOW RISE MEDIUM DENSITY HOUSING CODE – In a significant win for the rights of councils to determine local plans in consultation with their local communities, NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has further deferred the low rise medium density housing code until 1 July 2020. This follows a three-month deferral of the code in June 2019 and the commissioning of a review by UTS academic Roberta Ryan. In granting the new deferral, Minister Stokes has acknowledged strong representations from our sector that now is not the time to implement this code. Forty-five councils, mostly in areas experiencing rapid development, now have more time to finalise their local planning rules to help prevent poor design and builds of low-rise apartment buildings and terrace-style homes. For more information or to raise concerns contact LGNSW Planning Strategy Manager Jane Partridge

SHARING AMALGAMATION EXPERIENCES – I joined more than 70 mayors, councillors and general managers on the Central Coast this week to discuss the many challenges and successes experienced by councils forcibly merged in December 2015. Amalgamation is complex, requiring the merging of IT systems and harmonised rate structures and service levels across old council boundaries. It is to the immense credit of those councils affected, that they continued to deliver core business while resolving these challenges. We welcome the NSW Government’s commitment to no new forced council amalgamations, but we are also advocating that councils and communities wishing to undertake a demerger should be able to do so. Thanks to Central Coast Mayor Jane Smith for co-hosting and to all those who took part. To discuss further contact LGNSW Senior Manager Innovation and Capacity Sarah Artist.

FOCUS ON BUILDING SAFETY – We were delighted to have our first meeting with newly appointed NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler this week. If you have any issues you would like us to raise at our next meeting, contact LGNSW Strategy Manager, Planning and Transport, Jane Partridge

INTERFACE AGREEMENTS REMINDER – Under recent changes to the Rail Safety National Law, managers of public roads must enter into interface agreements to manage safety risks at road/rail interfaces. From 1 July 2019, road managers failing enter into interface agreements are liable for maximum fines of $50,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations. The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has written to all councils with outstanding agreements reminding them of their responsibilities and offering further assistance. Councils play a key role in managing safety risks at interfaces in consultation with rail operators to minimise the number of accidents and I urge all councils with outstanding agreements to put one in place as soon as possible. For more information visit the ONRSR website
 
Photo: LGNSW President Cr Linda Scott with Central Coast Mayor Jane Smith at this week's amalgamation forum.

Linda Scott and Jane Smith