Skip to main content

Australian Local Government Association, 29th National General Assembly, National Convention Centre, Canberra

[As delivered]

Good morning and thank you for the invitation and opportunity to come and speak with you again this year as we did last year.

Linda [Scott, President, ALGA], thank you for the warm welcome that Linda and I have received.

I thank Aunty Violet for her Welcome to Country. She is a much-loved person here in Canberra.

Could I add to her welcome in the sense that, as I often say at Government House, if you have visited Canberra before or if you live here, you know what a beautiful part of the country it is. The Namadgi down south, the Brindabellas to the west, the Murrumbidgee and the Molonglo — we are surrounded by nature's beauty, but we are indebted to the Ngunnawal people for looking after it for us for generation after generation.

Could I also add that, as well as respect to Elders, I think we need to be very mindful today of our responsibility to the younger generation of Indigenous kids, because their future is our national future. If we lose this generation, we have no-one to blame but ourselves. That is the challenge we face.

  • Councillor Linda Scott JP GAICD (President, Australian Local Government Association) and members of the ALGA Board
  • Local Mayors and Councillors
  • Aunty Violet Sheridan (Ngunnawal Elder)
  • Distinguished guests.

It is great to be in your company. We see many of you individually. But it's a delight to see you, I daresay, in bulk, as we are this morning.

I am your feel-good start to the day. So, if you think this is your 'high' and you are on your way down for the rest of the day, at least you get to start with me!

I am here to say thank you to you and encourage you.

We have had the privilege of meeting and interacting with many of you during my term as Governor-General and before that as Governor of New South Wales.

We go into your communities. We are welcomed by you. We see what is going on and experience the highs and the lows of what's happening in those communities.

Many of you of course, and we met with some last night, come from disaster-affected regions which we have visited on more than one occasion.

For all of you, though, there are very pressing issues in local communities that need to be addressed.

Therefore, your theme of this assembly, 'Our communities; Our future', is very apt and very important. Because you know better than I do that the strength of local communities determines what happens throughout the rest of the country.

As I often say in speeches when I am talking to local councils, you are where you look people in the eye on a daily basis.

There is nowhere else to go. You can't hide from local issues.

So, when you put your hand up to be elected to a local council, you know that you will be answering people in the street and looking them in the eye — giving them an answer to the question they ask. And, as a leader, that is a tough place to be at times.

Thank you for putting your hand up and deciding that what you want to give back to community is for the good of the community, and for being prepared to put yourself in that often vulnerable position.

I am delighted to see that, as part of your theme today, 'Community wellbeing' will be one of the motions talked about.

It is an important aspect at the moment — coming out of the pandemic still and the ramifications that are still rolling through communities, those who have been disaster-struck even moreso — building up that strength in our communities for the challenges of the future.

The changes that we are going to ask of our communities are critical at the present time.

I am optimistic about the future of our country.

That might sound a bit odd given some of the issues we have rolling around at the present time.

Your theme goes to that optimism.

Why am I optimistic?

On Monday, I announced The King’s Birthday Honours List. It is one of the most satisfying aspects of my role.

Each honours list recognises the enormous amount of good that exists in our communities. Each of the recipients is someone who goes above and beyond to make life better for others.

Forty-three per cent of recipients in the General Division were recognised for service to local communities.

I think that is important because this list must reflect what goes on in Australia today, not what happened in 1975.

And, as you know as well as I do, most of those people will say, ‘I don't do it for this — I don't do it to be recognised; I don't do it for a medal. I do it because I want my community to be better and stronger.’

That is inspiring and, collectively, makes me optimistic about our country.

I know that 99.9 per cent of the people who come through the door at Government House at an Investiture ceremony will be full of humility. That is very noble and a nice attitude to take. But, boy, when your country says thank you, we mean it.

For you, though, I have a task.

Over the last four years, we at Government House have been trying to move the Order from a reasonably good working system to a system that better reflects Australia today.

We were historically low in representation of women — 30-odd per cent three or four years ago. We don't well represent the culturally diverse background of Australia. And we certainly don't represent the role that First Nations Australians play in our country. They are three big tasks to ensure that the Order reflects Australia.

This year, for the first time, more than 50 per cent of those recognised were women. We are doing better working with FECCA [Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia] and other organisations to reach into our multicultural communities and working with our First Nations leadership to chase those numbers.

What I need from you, though, is — you know the people in the community who need to be recognised. I know that many of you will have structures in place to go through an annual process to look and see who might be nominated.

If you could systemise that in your council meetings, the way you do business in the community, the way you talk with organisations, we can make a vast improvement of who we are recognising.

The Order needs to look like us today.

So, if I can ask you to look inside what you are doing in your LGA about recognition and about how to be aware and how to nominate, and to reach out to my staff. We are much more forward leaning now that we have been in the past. We will walk you through how to do a nomination. The offer is there. So, please, take it up if you would.

Let me share some observations.

Linda and I have travelled quite extensively around the country in the last 12 months since this group last met in this way.

Unfortunately, again, most of that period was dominated by visiting disaster-affected communities, primarily in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

At each stop, we meet a range of people: mayors, councillors, council CEOs, First Responders, representatives of charitable organisations and community groups and so on. The work you do, believe me, is inspiring.

And I bring those observations back and include them in speeches to tell the Australian people. I also make observations to our senior leadership in the country at state and federal levels about what I see.

Again, I just want to say thank you.

I'm not blind to the problems. But nor am I blind to the energy and the leadership that goes into leading our local communities.

I hope that out of this assembly you get what you want in relation to what you need in your local areas.

Please, keep the effort going. It really does make a difference. We see that and we hear that.

An indulgence while I have the platform.

After nearly nine years in Vice-Regal roles, Linda and I have seen many successful projects conducted by local governments to improve communities. It fits in with your theme, 'Our communities; Our future', in one particular aspect or another.

My initial degree was in mathematics, not that I ever used it.

But it did teach me to recognise patterns, and I like to join the dots.

I have seen many brilliant dots out there!

I visit an area, and I see a town where they're completely recycling or reticulating greywater. And I go to another community that has solved its problems with swimming pools. I go to Lord Howe Island where they package their rubbish up to go offshore no larger than that screen size if it were a cube, and I'm thinking, why aren't we all doing this!

I noticed on your website that you have a ‘Domestic Violence Prevention Toolkit for Local Government.’ What about a ‘What’s worked in Local Government Areas Toolkit’?

Last month Linda and I were at King Island at the national awards ceremony for Tidy Towns, won by Gascoyne Junction in Western Australia. Congratulations to that tiny village; so brilliant and innovative.

What we have over 30 years of Keep Australia Beautiful is a catalogue of projects that have been costed, have a known scale, have known benefits, have project plans, have been risk managed.

That's a golden source, I reckon, for local government, when you are looking at solving problems. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. As I say, I like to join dots.

The challenge, I put out there: is there some way we can collect this data to make it accessible to everybody? I have discussed it with Linda [Scott, ALGA President]. She will probably discuss it with you.

There is so much good in our communities.

If there is anything I want to get out of this job in dealing with local government it is, please, if you're not doing it already, talk to each other. At a national scale we have solved most of the problems that are out there. They are within our grasp.

As a group that comprises seven LGAs and 537 councils, you are the engine room for change in the country. Because what you do resonates above you.

I encourage you to get stuck in these next two days so that you can return to your communities reinvigorated after the Canberra cold and hopefully better equipped to continue to represent your constituents in the admirable way you do.

I started my Vice-Regal journey nine years ago being very sceptical about mayors and local councils, not that I had anything to do with them; just what I had read.

Nine years on, I am a convert. I am on your side because I know, see, touch what you do. Please, keep doing it.

Thank you.