Murray River Council Submits Inquiry on Local Government Sustainability

Murray River Council

Murray River Council has made an in-depth submission to a Federal Government Inquiry into the sustainability of local government.

Through the Inquiry, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport will examine financial sustainability and funding frameworks of local governments, alongside changing infrastructure requirements and service delivery obligations.

CEO Terry Dodds PSM authored the piece on behalf of council and said the detailed submission has been a long time coming.

"The whole model to finance local government is completely broken, and our submission highlights some blunt truths around this; some that have been on my mind for decades."

"And whilst there is real risk that the solutions may likely be placed in the too-hard basket, it's important that we make ourselves heard nonetheless."

"Afterall, if the existing framework was sound, both the Federal and State Government's wouldn't be carrying out Inquiries into local government financial sustainability at the same time."

Mr Dodds said cost-shifting and service delivery obligations in particular are crippling local councils.

"Cost shifting is not a new phenomenon; it has been happening for years with both State and Federal governments cutting or transferring services."

"Distance exacerbates this pressure on councils too, especially in rural areas, where we're left to fill servicing gaps after abandonment by higher tiers of government."

Mr Dodds said the cost shifting, as highlighted in a recent NSW Local Government Association report, amounts to $460 per rate assessment, underscoring the need for councils to have more financial autonomy from the start.

"This cost shifting often occurs without offering ways to increase revenue. Additionally, legislative changes force councils to take on more services, adding to unrecoverable costs like staffing and insurance, as well as spin-off costs."

"If the State Government is offloading costs onto NSW councils without a means to increase revenue, quite frankly, imposing things like rate caps makes no sense."

The submission also highlighted the perils of asset depreciation on local government.

"Depreciation of roads is a beast in itself and in most cases is often the single largest financial headache for rural councils," Mr Dodds said.

"Then comes the added expense of assets."

"Assets are added to councils' portfolios, due to growth driven by communities, and election commitments, but there are no grants provided by State and Federal government for maintaining the asset or having a provision for replacement down the track."

"We continue to pay for the Government's financial incapacity to plan for this deprecation."

Council's submission also highlighted issues around employment and retention, budgeting, and the inability to forward-plan.

Mr Dodds said overall he hopes the submission can play some part is prompting important discussions with a view to real and meaningful change, but he's cynical.

"Reports critical of government actions, such as those on the NSW Government's e-Planning Portal, are often suppressed to avoid political fallout, even when they highlight crucial issues like affordable housing. This lack of transparency undermines trust and accountability."

"Moving forward, there must be safeguards to ensure reports are released unaltered, and governments must address their own shortcomings rather than just burdening councils with recommendations, as has been the case after the last few inquiries."

Mr Dodds hoped the Inquiry will prompt the Federal and NSW State Governments to prioritise rebuilding trust with local governments, rather than the Master-Servant mentality that is ingrained in the culture.

"Local government is vital for communities, but it has been neglected and undermined in NSW for too long. It's time for meaningful change and accountability from all levels of government."

To view the submission in full, visit

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