The new president of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott, has plenty of experience going out to bat for local government as president of the NSW branch of the organisation.
As the new national head of the organisation that advocates on behalf of the 500-plus Australian councils, Scott wants to see local governments empowered to tackle sustainability issues such as climate change, waste and urban liveability.
For example, the Labour councillor succeeding former president David O’Loughlin is pushing for more financial support for local governments to transition away from a linear model of waste management.
The federal government made waste reduction targets in the wake of China’s ban on overseas recyclables. This included halving the amount of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030, recovering 80 per cent of resources in all waste streams by 2030 and “significantly increasing” the use of recycled content by governments and industry.
But Scott tells The Fifth Estate that local governments, which are on the front line of the waste crisis, need more financial assistance from their state and federal counterparts.
The NSW government has stepped up funding to unlock new markets for using recycled material in roads and pavements, including for the development of new guidelines that stipulate how much recycled material can safety be used in roads and other infrastructure.
She will also push for procurement targets to encourage more use of recycled materials in council infrastructure.
Councils are stepping up on climate change
Scott says councils have a huge opportunity to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
As councillor, she moved the first motion for the City of Sydney to declare a climate emergency. She says other councils are rising to the task.
In Victoria, for example, 16 councils in regions and high growth areas have formed an alliance to devise a new framework for “sustainable subdivisions”, which will ensure new suburbs in these municipalities are sustainable and liveable. This will include plenty of urban greenery, shading in the public realm and a layout that encourages active transport and minimises car dependency.
But Scott says to meet zero emission commitments, local governments will need more funding from state and federal governments.
This is something she plans to bring to the first National Federation Reform Council meeting on Friday (11 December), which was formed this year to replace the Council of Australian Government (COAG).
“I look forward to presenting to them about what we’ve done to lead our communities out of bushfires, flood, droughts and then Covid.”
She also plans to fight changes to COAG that would diminish local government power on national matters.
“ALGA was a foundation member of COAG until it was abolished and replaced by the National Cabinet in May. What that effectively means is that decisions about people are being made without community input.
“It’s fundamentally undemocratic, and I will fight for ALGA to regain a seat at the table of first ministers.”
Scott says her activism is community-based, with “this level of government closest to the community”.
She’s been a councillor for City of Sydney for eight years and spent much of this time campaigning to make the inner city more liveable and child friendly.
“I first ran for council because my children were growing up in the inner city, and it was hard to access childcare and there were few green spaces and parks, and not enough skate ramps.”
As such, she’s advocated for more green space, sporting fields, and skate parks, which she says has successfully attracted more families to the area.
Scott is also passionate about is the role of local government in economic development.