Tuesday, 10 May 2022 17:43

Top 10 election issues for WSROC councils

 

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) has outlined 10 key issues the Australian Government must address in its next term to increase Western Sydney’s liveability, resilience and wellbeing. From energy and waste to disaster resilience, housing affordability and local government funding, the issues identified require action and support at the federal level.

WSROC has been advocating on these issues in forums during the election campaign and will continue advocacy to the elected Federal Government. An overview of these issues is provided below.

1. Leadership on climate mitigation and adaptation

Why is this important:

Climate change impacts are already being felt across Australia. Western Sydney residents have been particularly impacted by extreme heat, flood and bushfires over the past three years, and predictions indicate the region will suffer some of the greatest impacts of climate change.

  • Western Sydney is expected to experience an additional 5-10 days over 35oC by 2030 (up from 37 days per year in summer 2020).
  • Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has the highest flood risk in Australia. By 2071, increased rainfall intensity would increase 1 in 100 (1%) year flood levels by 1 metre by 2071 in some areas.
  • Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is one of the most bushfire prone areas in the world,with frequency and scale of bushfires projected to increase under climate change.

Western Sydney councils are committed to reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change and seek leadership from the Australian Government to help implement mitigation and adaptation plans. 

WSROC supports the LGNSW resolution that calls for the Australian Government to meet international obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, however, at the local level, support is needed to address practical challenges of climate change. This includes essential service and asset management, local jobs and economies, as well as community health.

Our ask:

That the Australian Government:

  • Work with state government, councils and communities to help Western Sydney adapt to a changing climate and implement policy and programs to achieve its emission targets.
  • Fund and implement the Integrated Systems Plan in order to build a resilient, smart electricity network. Funding should be extended to support innovation, battery programs and microgrids.
  • Introduce support programs to accelerate rooftop solar update and household batteries, with dedicated initiatives to support lower income households and renters.
  • Map future workforce needs for emerging renewable energy industries, establish clear strategies to address gaps, and focus new job opportunities in areas experiencing a decline in traditional energy industries.
  • Provide dedicated funding programs to upgrade community infrastructure and facilities and make them more sustainable and energy efficient
  • Mandate national energy performance disclosure and standards at the point of sale or lease for residential and commercial properties.

2. Support Western Sydney’s EV transition

Why is this important:  

Road transport is one of the most emission intensive sectors of Australia, accounting for approximately 16% of Australia’s total emissions. Passenger vehicles are responsible for nearly half of the sector’s total emissions. In Western Sydney, transport makes up over 30% of regional emissions.

Western Sydney councils have set 2030 targets for transitioning the region to electric transport under the Western Sydney EV Roadmap including:

  • At least 50% of council fleets transitioned to EV
  • 100% buses to be zero emissions
  • 50% of all taxis, car shares and ferries to be zero emissions.

The Australian Government has an important role in accelerating the transition to low emission transport. We call on the federal government to support the work of Western Sydney councils by removing barriers to drive both demand and supply of low-emission vehicles and infrastructure.

Our asks:

  • Introduce mandatory fuel efficiency standards. The introduction of mandatory fuel efficiency standards is a big opportunity to increase electric passenger vehicle sales and decarbonise the passenger vehicle fleet.
  • Fast-tracking improvements to petrol quality standards. Not only will better fuel standards reduce fuel pollutants and emissions, it also facilitates the adoption of better engine and emission control technologies ensuring that advanced technology is made available for Australia's car market.
  • Introduce federal low emissions vehicle purchase incentives. There is an opportunity to strengthen incentives that are in place in several state and local governments. Subsidies, tax incentives and other mechanisms to reduce up-front financial incentives for electric vehicles should be considered. 

3. Support local government to reduce food waste emissions

Why is this important:  

Food waste disposal into landfill makes up a significant proportion of waste emissions and is a key contributor of household emissions. The disposal of food and garden organics to landfill makes up a significant portion of household waste bins and diversion to composting prevents up to a 37% abatement of household waste emissions. While household food waste services are being mandated by the NSW Government by 2030, there are significant additional financial costs that come with implementing these services to deliver waste diversion and carbon abatement. Recent SSROC modelling indicate that even with NSW Government grants, each NSW council would require at minimum an additional $1.47 million dollars of funding to deliver food organics waste services above existing business as usual.

Our ask:

  • Support local government transition to FOGO services in the development of grants under carbon abatement and waste reduction initiatives. Without additional financial support, councils will struggle to fund and deliver this service transition and resulting abatements.

4. Support circular economy via national product stewardship

Why is this important: 

In order to transition to a circular economy, strong consideration needs to be given to the redesign of packaging to ensure there is less of it and that it contains less mixed material to ensure it is more easily recycled. Product Stewardship involves mandating industry-wide programs that ensure this happens in a way that does not disadvantage those brands wishing to do the right thing. Product stewardship initiatives cannot be driven by local government, however councils strongly support federal government programs to add schemes and expand product inclusion in existing schemes.

Our ask:

  • Expand product stewardship initiatives to increase recycling of waste resources and address safe disposal of problematic hazardous wastes.
  • Where such programs are voluntary rather than mandatory, the Australian Government should work to effect sector-wide compliance.

5. Build local infrastructure resilience after disasters

Why is this important:

Like many local governments around Australia, Western Sydney councils, have contended with consecutive and concurrent natural disasters that have overwhelmed their staffing and financial capacity. Recovery from natural disasters provides an opportunity to build back better, however insufficient, and delayed funding has limited capacity to do so, resulting in longer recovery periods and reduced resilience to future events.  

Some local government areas have waited over 12 months for federal funding to help fix local infrastructure. For example, funding delays following the 2021 Hawkesbury-Nepean flood events meant that infrastructure could not be restored in a timely fashion resulting in more extensive damage and costs during the 2022 floods.

Our ask:

  • Ensure publicly accessible and owned community infrastructure, and local government waste, water and wastewater assets, are included under Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.
  • Develop, implement, and properly fund programs to rebuild essential public infrastructure damaged in natural disasters to a more resilient standard, ensuring that the full costs of delivery including materials, consultancy fees and staffing costs to manage the rebuild are considered.
  • Reduce barriers to timely funding delivery, so that communities can recover more quickly and build resilience to future events.

6. Regulatory reform to support heat resilience

Why is this important:

Extreme heat is Australia’s number one natural killer, with cumulative and cascading impacts on our community, economy and ecosystems; particularly in Western Sydney. The way we plan and design our communities is critical to reducing risk at the community and household levels. Between 2018 and 2022, Western Sydney’s residential building turnover was 14%, compared with 1% nationally. This growth trajectory is not expected to slow. In Western Sydney’s growth areas a significant percentage of housing stock will be delivered before 2030, therefore, the standards set today will establish Western Sydney’s built form for decades to come. Regulatory reform to promote heat resilience and thermal safety should be enacted without delay.

Our ask:

  • Update the National Construction Code to ensure new homes are designed to keep people safe in future climates and when the power goes out.
    • Ensure performance is assessed against future climate data
    • Introduce thermal safety and thermal autonomy standards
  • Define heatwave as a natural disaster under federal legislation.
    • Heatwave is not currently an eligible disaster under the Federal National Disaster Arrangements – with impacts for assistance and adaptation funding packages.
    • A multi-day network outage across Greater Sydney would have flow on effects for critical infrastructure such as cooling, water mains, transport and telecommunications, requiring an unprecedented emergency response.
  • Collaborate with state and local governments to create national urban heat mitigation and adaptation objectives agreed upon by the Federal Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure and National Planning Ministers. These targets should be nuanced based on local conditions and climate. 

7. National strategy to address housing affordability

Why is this important:

Australia’s housing affordability crisis demands action. Sydney is widely recognised as one of the most expensive cities in Australia, however deterioration in housing affordability has been most obvious in lower income regions such as Western Sydney.

More than 14.6% of Greater Western Sydney households are in mortgage stress, and a further 32.8% of households are in rental stress. In total this is almost half of all Greater Western Sydney households (47.4%). Social and affordable housing provision is also a significant challenge with Wentworth Housing and Western Sydney Community Forum estimating a shortfall of 67,000 social and affordable dwellings in Western Sydney in 2016.

Australia currently has no national vision for housing, and there is far more data needed to understand the problem.

Our ask:

  • Develop a National Housing Strategy which outlines a national vision and a well-resourced Data Hub to help stakeholders across Australia make data-informed decisions.
  • Ensure housing affordability measures also consider ongoing running costs of a dwelling to reduce cost-of-living pressures on households. 

8. Increase Financial Assistance Grants

Why is this important:

Freezes to Financial Assistance Grants and other funding streams in combination with years of natural hazards and unprecedented levels of urban growth have left many councils struggling to fund the infrastructure their communities need.

Our ask:

  • That the Federal Government not to make changes to the methodology of Financial Assistance Grant funding until it is valued back to 1% of Commonwealth tax revenue.
  • That the Australian Government work with the state government and councils to review how local government is funded to deliver local infrastructure and other programs.

9. Local government representation on National Cabinet

Why is this important:

As COVID-19 and subsequent natural disasters have demonstrated the critical role local government plays in delivery and implementation of state and federal government policies. Local government representation to National Cabinet is essential for ensuring that opportunities and barriers for implementation are identified early in the policy development process, so that high-level decision making delivers the intended outcomes for communities on the ground.

 

Our ask:

  • That a permanent local government representative is appointed on the National Cabinet.

10. Review of financing and funding arrangements affecting local government

Why this is important:

Greater Western Sydney comprises a substantial number of high growth areas scattered amongst areas that have had a long history of deficient spending on social infrastructure. The growing needs and increasing expectations from residents and workers alike, for funding appropriate levels of services and social infrastructure is far more than what current funding mechanisms provide.

Recent reviews by IPART into developer contributions, waste charges and the rates cap, have done nothing to improve the financial resilience of local government, as they did not address the following features of the current policy framework that:

  • Allows cost shifting to local government to go uncompensated.
  • Creates financial uncertainty due to a complicated set of funding arrangements with Commonwealth and state governments that can change at the whim of either.
  • Places constraints on local government’s ability to levy appropriate fees and charges.
  • Prevents local government in forming innovative partnerships or joint ventures for the benefit of their communities.

This policy framework is imposing a growing liability for unfunded infrastructure (especially in the growth areas but equally for legacy affected areas) not only restricts local government’s ability to deliver the infrastructure and services required by communities. It is estimated that Greater Western Sydney has an unfunded liability of over $2 billion to establish a reasonable level of social infrastructure across the region.

In 2019 the NSW Review of Federal Financial Relations expert panel published a discussion paper that examined how NSW and the Commonwealth could work together to build a stronger economy, encourage state-led reform, and ultimately deliver better value for taxpayers.

 

Our asks:

  • An expert panel be set up to investigate and report on Australian and state governments’ financial relations affecting local government, with the remit of:
    • Examining how NSW councils and the NSW and Commonwealth Governments can work together to build a stronger economy, encourage reform across all three levels of government especially in the policy framework, and ultimately deliver better value for taxpayers/ratepayers.
    • Investigating options for a fairer, more efficient and more reliable system of Commonwealth and state funding for local government.
    • Providing recommendations for establishing a stable, reliable revenue base that allows local government to fund essential services and infrastructure into the future.
Last modified on Wednesday, 11 May 2022 10:20