While the Federal and State governments wrangle over the vast GST take, another arm of government is quietly making its own claim for a share of the spoils.
The Australian Local Government Association is calling for an extra $400 million for councils in this year's Federal budget, saying the money is needed in part to pay for local government's end of efforts to fully take part in joined up government, prevent a digital divide growing between the three spheres of government and build on the achievements of the Networking The Nation program.
ALGA wants the Australian Government to replace financial assistance grants to local government with a one percent share of national taxation revenue, to give Australia's 675 councils access to much needed growth revenue. The call came in ALGA's submission on the 2005-06 Federal Budget, and in discussions between ALGA President, Councillor Paul Bell and Federal Local Government Minister Jim Lloyd, as well as in meetings with shadow ministers Martin Ferguson and Senator Kerry O'Brien over recent weeks.
Cr Bell will says councils are under increasing financial pressure and need access to better revenue to deliver high quality services. Giving them a one percent share of tax revenue could increase payments to local government from $1.61 billion to $2.01 billion in 2005-06 - an increase of $400m in the first year.
He says ALGA will over the next six months develop a plan - Better Rural Services - to improve the capacity of councils to deliver services in regional, rural and remote areas.
The plan will be prepared in consultation with state associations and councils. The ALGA Board endorsed the development of the plan last month.
"The plan will build on the work and achievements of the Networking the Nation program and counter a growing digital divide experienced by many rural councils.
"The plan will be put to the Australian Government for consideration and possible implementation," he says.
Cr Bell says the Networking the Nation program has provided very substantial assistance to councils in regional Australia.
'We are off first base, but much more remains to be done. We simply can't afford to leave some councils behind simply because they haven't got sufficient resources to reap the rewards and benefits that IT can bring,' Cr Bell said.
'We hope to develop a plan that will provide a way forward that the Australian Government can support and back.
"The potential sale of Telstra focuses attention on finding and funding new ways to deliver sustainable services in regional areas through effective use of information technology.
"The Australian Government has been a strong supporter of local government and we hope further investment in IT capacity will help councils deliver better services in regional Australia,' Cr Bell said.
ALGA's Budget submission calls on the Australian Government to provide around $500m a year to fund a range of specific initiatives in areas including IT, regional airports, urban transport, coastal zone management, health and Aboriginal housing.
As a federal parliamentary committee's "Fair Share" report on local government financing and "cost shifting" made clear Cr Bell says, councils are under significant financial pressure and deserve a better deal. The Australian Government now has the opportunity to put local government on a more stable financial platform. This must include providing councils - all councils - with access to growth funds.
If implemented this year, a one percent share of national taxation revenue will provide an increase of $400m in the coming financial year, rising to larger amounts as the economy grows. And Cr Bell says that level of payment will impose no burden on the Commonwealth because future payments to local government will grow in line with the economy and taxation revenue.
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