Keeping the Local in Local Government

(8.50am 5 June 2012, Sofitel Wentworth)

Thank you, Cr Adam Marshall, MC. Good morning, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nationalities who live in our City.

Welcome also to the NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, Minister Don Page, President Cr Ray Donald and all Councillors.

I'm particularly pleased to welcome all our regional councillors to Sydney. Although obviously many of the issues you face differ from our urban concerns, there are many more that we share.

One of the great strengths of local government is that it's the level of government closest to its people. People have easy access to local decision-makers and we are more easily held accountable.

I think every delegate in this room would know about that!

Local councils provide numerous diverse and locally-targeted services - whether for children or young people, for seniors, for Aboriginal Australians and for people with a disability. Increasingly we are being asked to fill the gaps created by state and federal cost shifting, or to respond to the needs of our local people who fall between the cracks.

Child-care for working parents and specialised programs such as job-skills for young people through to IT training for older residents support our communities at all stages of their lives.

Of course there are differences between a city like Sydney and some of our smaller regional centres, but forums like this give us the opportunity to share ideas, discuss common issues and ideally, form partnerships to find solutions to common problems.

Some of the most urgent issues facing us - climate change, water and food security, transport - affect cities and regions, and they demand collaborative solutions.

Sydney is not its own little island-state. What happens in the 26 square kilometres of this local government area affects the prosperity of metropolitan Sydney, of regional NSW, and of Australia.

So if Sydney doesn't work well for its residents, companies and visitors, it's certainly not going to work well for the rest of NSW or for Australia. If our city is gridlocked and poorly served by transport, if we struggle to get people through the city, we won't be getting visitors even as far as Parramatta, let alone west of the Great Divide.

Equally, the well-being of our regional centres matters to us here in Sydney. The health of waterways and of the land itself, source of so much of our food supply, the viability of regional towns and decisions about transport all impact on the city.

It is vital that we all continue to fight on the big issues as well as the "roads, rates and rubbish". That we continually remind "big government" that their actions - or lack of action - have real and measurable impacts on people and communities.

It's vital that we continue to listen to our constituents, to keep channels of communication open so that we can take their concerns to our State and Federal decision-makers.

Our communities expect results and we can deliver them best when we can work effectively with each other, and with the State and Federal governments. As genuinely local representatives, we have the passion and the commitment to deliver those results.

Local government can be a genuine badge of pride. I always remember the words of former US President Bill Clinton at a C40 climate change meeting where he told the local government representatives that he admired mayors because they got up every day and actually did something that would affect people's lives and could change them for the better.

That is both our task, and our privilege.

Once again, a warm welcome to all of you. I hope you'll enjoy your time in Sydney and I wish you a very successful conference.

Thank you.