The Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter says the Commonwealth needs to come to the table with a revision of the Financial Assistant Grants (FAGs) or risk losing council funded services.
Mr Katter said the already struggling councils of Queensland are bracing for a loss of over $180 million over the next three years due to the freeze on annual indexation put in place by the Abbott Government last year.
“The current freeze on the FAG means the increasing costs to provide local services are not being matched by the Commonwealth Federal Government; this just adds to a number of unfortunate circumstances for our hard-pressed local councils,” Mr Katter said.
“Due to shrinking populations and the minimum grants principal our councils no longer have the same pool of rates. Couple that with a decrease in Transport Infrastructure Development Scheme funding and the current drought situation, and our shires are facing huge challenges.
“The whole purpose of FAGS grants is that councils with a limited rate base can still be sustainable and clearly with the rural crisis our councils are not going to be sustainable,” he said.
Mr Katter said ignoring the calls for a FAG revision in regional Australia will be denying the bush the ability to support itself in this time of need.
“Without federal support or a FAG revision it is impossible to see how a shire with a shrinking population can be expected to deliver appropriate services to the towns that need it the most in the current drought.”
During the last sitting of parliament in Question Time, Mr Katter called for support from the Deputy Premier for adjustment to minimum grants under the FAG Scheme.
“The Deputy Premier stated she would be open to detailed talks to lobby the Commonwealth on the issue,” Mr Katter said.
“This is a matter of urgency, once a population leaves they won’t be coming back, I look forward to cooperation with the current government for further support on this matter.
“We cannot continue to let our regional councils beg for the scraps of the larger metropolitan areas,” he said.
Boulia Shire Mayor Cr Rick Britton said the lack of FAG funding is already having an immediate impact on the people of his electorate.
“The councils with a bigger population have the ability to make up for any loss by raising their huge rate base, we simply can’t do that with our size and with everything our residents are dealing with at the moment,” Cr Britton said.
“The scheme was meant to put us on an equal footing but it’s not working that way, the whole structure needs to be looked at.
“Should larger councils still be receiving this amount of funding if they have the rate base to earn the deficit?”
Cr Britton estimated that a redistributed rate rise of just 1% in some urban centres could assist their smaller rural neighbours to the tune of $60m.
“For something similar to a couple of cups of coffee cities could help stimulate the economies in rural and remote areas,” he said.
“We’re not building the yellow brick road or the Taj Mahal, we are providing the basic services.
“We are working between the wants and needs, right now we can only provide the needs.”