Outer suburbs not being heard (again)

Australia’s fast-growing outer suburbs – home to five million people – have lost out again, with the new Minister for Local Government cutting outer suburban councils off from one of the few sources of funding.

The outer suburbs were key battlegrounds in the recent federal election, with many seats in these areas changing hands in what some considered a surprise result.

The Minister responsible for the funding decision, Senator Fiona Nash, addressed the Australian Regional Development Conference recently.

She recently launched the Building Better Regions Fund, which is only open to regional, rural and remote Australia, in a rebranding of what had been the billion dollar National Stronger Regions Fund. The NSRF had been open to all metropolitan areas.

The National Growth Areas Alliance, which is backed by more than 20 outer suburban councils -- from Penrith in Sydney’s west through to Wanneroo in Perth’s north -- has questioned the decision.

“This was one of the few avenues available to councils on the outskirts of our capital cities to access money for much-needed infrastructure – and now we are being locked out of that as well,” says Glenn Docherty, the Chairman of the NGAA and Mayor of the City of Playford in Adelaide’s north.

“This is a backwards step for our communities which are already struggling with poor infrastructure,” says Mayor Docherty.

Research commissioned for the Alliance shows there is already a $50 billion backlog in infrastructure for fast-growing outer suburbs and unless it is seriously addressed now, that figure will grow to $73 billion in the next 15 years. By then, the population in these areas is expected to reach 7.5 million people.

“Infrastructure Australia has underlined the need to better support population growth in population hotspots like the outer suburbs. Why then is it being made even harder for our areas?

“There is no doubt the bush deserves attention, but so do the fast-growing outer suburbs of our capital cities,” says Mayor Docherty.

“In fact, regional areas and the outer suburbs face some similar issues: lack of infrastructure and local jobs – and neither do as well as the inner metropolitan areas across a range of indicators.

“The clincher for the outer suburbs is that they are also struggling under the weight of enormous population growth,” says Mayor Docherty.

The NGAA has written to the new Minister saying that what is not recognised is that outer suburbs often contain significant rural land holdings and frequently also serve rural and regional communities beyond their boundaries.

“You can’t just look at lines on a map to determine whether areas deserve funding. The picture is far more complex – and changing fast,” says Mayor Docherty.

In the letter to Senator Nash, the NGAA makes the point that the outer suburbs need a dedicated fund in the same way that the bush enjoys.

“If it’s good enough for rural and regional areas to have a dedicated fund, it is only fair that growing outer suburbs are treated equally,” says Mayor Docherty.

“Giving residents and businesses in the growing outer suburbs the same opportunities and access to infrastructure as other Australians is not only a matter of fairness, it is also a matter of common sense.

“Research tells us that investment would create jobs, provide greater tax revenues and permanently boost national GDP by billions of dollars annually. It would also reverse the billions of dollars of lost productivity that Infrastructure Australia says we’re frittering away.”

As the new Minister for Local Government and Territories, Senator Nash has indicated a strong interest in local government.

The NGAA is endeavoring to meet with Senator Nash to brief her on the issues for the outer suburbs and a proposal for a way forward.

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, National Growth Areas Alliance, 0448 388 934