Western Queensland councils have united to call on the federal government to fundamentally change the way they target funding programs for rural and remote councils and significantly increase spend.
The 21 western councils from the Gulf to the NSW border say they generate almost $10 billion of Queensland’s Gross Product from 1.3 per cent of the Queensland’s population, over twice the Queensland average.
But Cr Rob Chandler, Chair of the Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) said they faced many challenges.
“All of western Queensland has been punching well above its weight in terms of its contribution to the national economy with unsatisfactory Federal funding,” Cr Chandler said.
“If we are to continue we require a fair deal and targeted support,”
The three regional organisations of councils – North West Queensland (Mount Isa), RAPAD (Longreach) and South West (St George) commissioned a report from AEC Group which highlighted the pressure they faced including substantial population decline, a five year drought, and high cost of living and services.
The report showed these factors were increasing the pressure on council budgets because of their limited rating and revenue raising capacity spread across large geographical areas, ageing community infrastructure requiring large renewal investment, new infrastructure challenges to support mining and volatility of operating grants significantly impacting the provision of infrastructure and services to their communities.
The report recommended a growth in external funding and greater certainty and predictability.
“Strategic infrastructure investment and service provision can only be achieved if there is certainty in long term funding sources and levels,” the report said.
The councils have called on the Commonwealth government to return the Financial Assistance Grants Scheme funding levels to one percent of total Commonwealth taxation revenue.
The scheme was originally at one percent but has has dropped in recent years to almost half that.
They also want certainty on other program such as Roads to Recovery, Black Spots, Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity, Bridges Renewal, Northern Australia Beef Roads, Northern Australia Roads, National Highways Upgrade and Outback Way.
They want commitment to a longer-term funding regime for rural and remote councils based on an allocative model similar to that used for the Roads to Recovery Program to achieve predictability and certainty of funding levels and to minimize the costly and lengthy delays involved in multiple bid-based programs.
Chair of North West Queensland Region of Councils Cr Jack Bawden (Mayor of Carpentaria Shire) called on the federal parliament to reform funding for rural and remote councils.
“For too long rural and remote regions and their communities have been unfairly treated with the level of return they receive from the Commonwealth government against the value they create for the national economy,” Cr Bawden said.
“We are seeking a fundamental rethink of how the Commonwealth Government funds rural and remote councils.”