Australia

Committee recommends local government referendum at 2013 Federal Election

A COMMITTEE tasked with investigating the likelihood of Australians supporting a referendum to recognise local government in the Constitution has recommended that the referendum takes place at this year's Federal Election.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government released its final report this week month, which stated that there are four strong arguments in favour of financial recognition of local government in the Constitution and recommended a 2013 referendum.

The Committee said recognition of local government would remove uncertainty, codify government practice, acknowledge the contemporary role of local government and support the financial sustainability of local government.

Other major findings contained in the report include:

  • • Lessons from the history of referenda support a 2013 referendum;
  • • The prospects for success are good, due to existing bipartisan support at the federal level and the readiness of ALGA and local governments to campaign in support of change;
  • • The prospects for success will rely on the strong commitment and campaigning by ALGA and its member bodies; and
  • • The prospects for success will be greatly improved by the support of state governments.

The Committee's recommendation follows a report by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government in 2011 that supported a referendum for financial recognition of local government in the Constitution.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), which has been campaigning for constitutional recognition of local government for more than five years, said the Committee's recommendation was "a win for local governments."

"The Joint Select Committee's key finding that a referendum should be held in September vindicates ALGA's long-held position," ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis said.  

"ALGA has consistently argued that recognition in the Constitution is needed to protect important funding for local projects and provide councils with the certainty that funding for local projects can continue without claims of constitutional invalidity.

"We welcome the Committee's recommendation that the Commonwealth begin all necessary preparatory activities to ensure a successful outcome for a referendum on financial recognition in 2013…"

Cr Lewis called on the Federal Government to implement the necessary legislation and provide public funding to support a campaign on the issue of constitutional recognition of local government, adding that much has been done by ALGA to prepare for a referendum announcement by the Australian Government. 

"Several elements of our campaign plan require the commitment of considerable financial expenditure and the allocation of resources from our state associations and of course must therefore await a final government decision," Cr Lewis said.

"ALGA and its state associations have committed to provide millions of dollars to campaign for the referendum and it is vital that public funding is also made available… Constitutional change can only be achieved through a successful referendum."

The report by the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government is available from the Parliament of Australia website at <http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=jsclg/index.htm>.

The 2011 report by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government is available from the Expert Panel's website at <http://www.localgovrecognition.gov.au/>.

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