Australia

Local government calls for Australian Government to act on referendum

THE Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) this week called on the Australian Government to commit to a referendum to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution.

The call follows this week's High Court decision over the Williams Case that raised doubts about the Australian Government's ability to provide direct funding to entities that are not recognised in the Constitution.

In the Williams Case, which concerns the Australian Government's ability to fund a chaplaincy program in public schools, the High Court found that the government did not have the power to provide direct funding in areas and to organisations outside of its constitutional responsibility.

ALGA President, Genia McCaffery, said securing constitutional recognition for local government would ensure federal funding remained available to provide essential local community infrastructure and services.

"In our view, this decision indicates that funding currently provided to local government through programs such as Roads to Recovery is clearly open to constitutional challenge," said Cr McCaffery.

"The local government sector is calling on the Australian Government to confirm its commitment to holding a referendum by 2013 on the financial recognition of local government in the Australian Constitution.

"This is an urgent issue for local government.  We have been arguing for years that we need to be recognised in the Australian Constitution to ensure the continuation of direct federal funding through programs such as Roads to Recovery," Cr McCaffery said.

In a speech to the National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra earlier this week, Local Government Minister Simon Crean acknowledged that the outcome of the Williams case will have a bearing on the Constitutional Recognition of Local Government.

"The outcome of the Williams case may provide a new momentum for this campaign, because regardless of the outcome we know that it is in the best interests of the nation for the Commonwealth to directly fund local government – the level of government closest to the community," Mr Crean said.

Mr Crean said the government has until October to make a decision on the referendum.

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