Australia

Referendum for constitutional recognition of local government a step closer

PRESIDENT of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), Felicity-ann Lewis, has welcomed Federal Parliament's decision to establish a Parliamentary Committee as the next step towards a referendum on the constitutional recognition of local government.

A motion to establish a 12 member Joint Select Committee to consider constitutional recognition of local government was carried in the House of Representatives last week.

Cr Lewis said Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave an undertaking when coming to office in 2010 to hold referendums by the end of 2013 on both constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians and constitutional recognition of local government.

The government recently decided to defer a referendum on indigenous recognition, but Cr Lewis said ALGA will continue to work with the Commonwealth on putting in place the conditions for a successful local government referendum.

ALGA contends that the only way to protect direct federal funding for community services and infrastructure is to have local government recognised in the Australian Constitution, and earlier this year, local government called on the Australian Government to establish a Parliamentary Committee to consider the timing of a referendum and the wording of the constitutional amendment.

"ALGA is seeking an amendment of Section 96 of the Constitution so that it would read: 'Parliament may grant financial assistance to any state or local government body formed by or under a law of a state or territory on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit'," Cr Lewis said.

"The report of an expert panel, established by the Government to explore the need for acknowledging local government in the Constitution, recommended last December that our case for financial recognition was a viable option."

According to polling commissioned by ALGA in 2011, 60 per cent of Australians believe that local government is important and up to 68 per cent of adults said that they might support financial recognition of local government in the Constitution.

"ALGA acknowledges the need for support from all sides of politics to ensure maximum success for a referendum proposal and we are seeking to ensure that all parties support direct funding of local government," Cr Lewis said.

Bill McArthur, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), said the bipartisan support to establish the Parliamentary Committee was a welcome move towards delivering certainty about direct federal funding received by councils.

"We support the national local government position for an amendment to section 96 of the Constitution to protect the significant federal funding provided for community services and infrastructure that is relied upon by local government," Cr McArthur said.

"The Parliamentary Committee established last week will play a key role in deciding both the timing and a referendum question so that a Bill can be introduced and passed by both houses of Parliament."

The Joint Select Committee – Constitutional Recognition of Local Government is expected to provide an interim report in December 2012 and a final report in February 2013.

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