Regional Services, Development and Local Government
Contact Sema Varova
First Assistant Secretary
Development and Local Government Division
Phone (02) 6274 8050
LINKS TO PORTFOLIO OUTCOME
The Division works with Commonwealth agencies and other levels of government to better deliver regional and local government programs, and fosters partnerships among communities, government and the private sector to achieve sustainable regional development. It provides a crucial link between Australias regions and the wider community. The Division facilitates a whole-of-government approach to policies, programs and services affecting regional Australia, and works to achieve efficient and effective local government and equitable Commonwealth support to councils.
Regional Australia Summit
In October 1999 the first Regional Australia Summit was held to address the challenges facing rural and regional Australia. (A detailed report of the Summit is included).
Opening of the first Rural Transaction Centre
Australias first Rural Transaction Centre (RTC) at Eugowra, in Central Western New South Wales, was officially opened by the Prime Minister on 29 October 1999. Its opening signalled the restoration of a range of vital services for the people of Eugowra, including the Reliance Credit Union, Centrelink, Medicare easyclaim and a room for visiting professionals and other business services, including Internet access, laminating and binding.
The Cabonne Council and the Eugowra Promotion and Progress Association continue their efforts to promote current services and introduce new ones as the RTC expands. The RTC employs two part-time staff and has a third trained on-call relief officer to service an average of more than 20 customers a day.
Eugowra was the first of 11 RTCs to be established under the Rural Transaction Centres Programme in 19992000.
The program envisages that the aggregation of services in a single centre, combined with a higher number of transactions and greater availability of services, will enhance the viability of RTCs and make them financially self-sustaining after an establishment period. It is envisaged that the services will be delivered by outlets such as licensed post offices, community banks, pharmacies, other small businesses, local councils, and community bodies such as telecentres.
The first trial regional forum was held in the Spencer Gulf area of South Australia in July 1999 at Whyalla. It was attended by about 160 people, including many local business people, community organisations, State and local government representatives, and senior federal public servants.
Its results included closer links between Commonwealth agencies and:
- the establishment of a desk officer within the Department as the first point of call for people from the region seeking information on Government programs and services (trial for six months);
- the placement of an Invest Australia officer in the region to develop a detailed investment strategy to encourage investment in the region; and
- the placement of a Trade Start and Export Access officer position based at Port Augusta. The position is jointly funded by Austrade, the South Australian Government and the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group.
The formal Commonwealth Government response to the Spencer Gulf area was made on 26 November 1999.
Remote Communities Liaison Service
A pilot Remote Communities Liaison Service was established in October 1999 in western Queensland to help communities in rural and remote areas achieve equitable access to federal information and services. The Remote Communities Liaison Officer has promoted Commonwealth Government programs to communities in 25 local government areas in western Queensland and established working links with Commonwealth and State government departments to deliver better outcomes for rural and remote communities.
Rural Communities Program and Rural Plan
During the year a total of $3.553 million was allocated to 292 new and ongoing projects under the Rural Communities Program, which aims to contribute to capacity-building in regional, rural and remote communities. A total of $2.764 million was allocated to 52 new and ongoing Rural Plan projects aimed at encouraging diverse and self-reliant rural communities and profitable and sustainable rural industries.
Regional Solutions Programme
The Regional Solutions Programme, a $90 million Commonwealth Government grants program, was announced in late June 2000. It will assist regional and rural communities experiencing economic and social disadvantage. Non-profit groups with strong community or regional support will be able to apply for grants ranging from $1000 to $500 000 for such projects as community planning, local project implementation, community adjustment initiatives, regionally based enterprise or infrastructure projects, and employing community-based development officers.
During the year approximately $9.2 million funding under the Newcastle Structural Adjustment Fund was committed to support nine projects that aim to generate sustainable private employment in the region. They include the Impulse Airlines National Reservations Centre, the Newcastle Airport upgrade, the Newcastle Harbour Marina, the Newcastle Stock Exchange and the Fishermens Cooperative Fish Processing Facility.
A $3.6 million structural adjustment package for the Eden region was also jointly announced by Senator Ian Macdonald and the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, The Hon. Wilson Tuckey, MP. By the end of the financial year, $1.4 million in funding for 12 projects had been announced, and a further eight projects granted conditional approval.
Year of the Outback 2002
In 1999 the Commonwealth Government declared that 2002 would be Australias Year of the Outback, and agreed to provide $2 million over three years for the project, beginning in 19992000. The Year of the Outback 2002 will raise awareness of regional Australia and its importance in the development of Australias culture and economic wealth. It will celebrate the ethos of the bush through a year-long major celebration of outback history, culture and achievements.
Local government activities
The Department administered $1.264 billion in untied financial assistance grants to local government in 19992000 under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995. This represents a 2.95 per cent increase over the previous year. As a consequence of the taxation reform measures, the Act required amendment, the amendments introduced to Parliament for passage by 1 July 2000.
The new Local Government Incentive Programme started in July 1999. Under it the Department provided $2.51 million for local government associations in every State and the Northern Territory to assist local government prepare for implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.
A Planning Ministers Conference hosted by the Minister for Regional Services Territories and Local Government, Senator The Hon. Ian Macdonald, was held in Canberra on 12 May 2000. It was the first meeting of Planning Ministers since 1995. All Planning Ministers attended or delegated senior officers.
The conference was a success, and a further conference will be held late in 2000. All States and Territories confirmed their commitment to the implementation of leading practice, to harmonisation and to improvement of their development assessment systems. They indicated strong support for the work of the Development Assessment Forum (DAF) in defining strategies and undertaking work to move forward the reform agenda.
Senator The Hon. Ian Macdonald announced his intention to fund the DAF for a further year. The DAF Working Group met in June 2000 to define its work program for the coming year.
National Awards for Innovation in Local Government (NAILG)
In 1999 NAILG, managed by the Department, attracted a record 338 entries. Leading practice seminars conducted by the Department continue to highlight the work of NAILG category winners and, in association with interested Councils, promote leading practice to local government across Australia.
The Regional Services, Development and Local Government Division recognises the importance of sustainability and environmental issues particularly related to natural resources management (NRM). The Division also makes a contribution to NRM and broader environmental issues through liaising with key stakeholders to ensure a two-way flow of information. Issues include:
- contributing to the development of NRM policy;
- salinity (both dryland and irrigated);
- renewable energy programs; and
- achievement of greater balance of resources (including environmental resources) through the adoption of better planning practices by local government (e.g. Local Agenda 21).
The Department recognises and supports the significant role of local government in achieving environmental sustainability. The Department directly encourages improved environmental management practices through the Environment Category of the NAILG, identifying and promoting activities and leadership within local government. The winner of the NAILG 1999 Environment Category, Newcastle City Council, has been recognised by the Rocky Mountain Institute in Aspen, world-renowned experts in resource efficiency, as one of the world's leaders in delivering greenhouse action. The Newcastle strategy has resulted in job creation and a 30 per cent reduction in energy bills, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Newcastle Council is one of the award winners sharing leading-practice expertise with other councils to ensure environmental sustainability.
The Divisions direct services to its Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary involved more than 1340 items, of which 86 per cent were rated satisfactory.
Client service training was provided for staff in 1999, and further specific training is being developed for staff who have regular communication with clients in regional and remote areas. Several verbal compliments were received during the year.
The Countrylink Australia information service for people living in regional and rural Australia continued to receive positive feedback on the quality operation of its free-call telephone information line.
Regional and local government programs and publications received positive feedback and support from stakeholders.
Download Performance Tables [PDF: 60 KB] as Adobe Acrobat PDF document.
Output 1.1 Policy advice and Ministerial services
Output 3.2 Administration of programs and grants for communities
Output 4.4 Administration of programs and grants for industry
Administered Item 1.1 Services to communities
Administered Item 1.2 Grants to States/Territories and local government