Each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association President. The following is from Mayor Lynn Mason, President Local Government Association of Tasmania.
Local Government's relationship with its State Government is usually critical to the good governance of the State itself. In Tasmania, we are about to conclude our first calendar year of the operation of the Premier's Local Government Council.
The issues brought formally before the Council have been jointly agreed by the Premier and the President of the day, but there have also been opportunities in general business to bring forth current issues for preliminary discussion. This year has involved discussion on Urban Hillfaces and Skylines, Waste Management, the establishment of an acceptable Planning Framework, and consideration of Marine Farming legislation.
The Association is now calling on Councils to contribute additional funding to permit the employment of a fair share of the human resources necessary to fully cooperate with the State Government in redrafting the Planning Framework. This will force Councils to decide just how seriously they wish to be taken in the demand for equality with the State, and how prepared Councils are to share the load evenly, rather than letting the larger Councils carry a disproportionate share of our joint local/state responsibility.
It also gives force to the continued demands of a majority of Local Government areas, that the States pass on an equitable share of Federal Government payments for NCP compliance. It is interesting that it comes at a time when an Association Committee is charged with reporting back to Councils on the issue of Constitutional recognition.
In Tasmania this is more accurately fuelled by a desire for improved Constitutional status. Local Government is recognised in the Tasmanian Constitution, but the protection afforded by this recognition is worth rather less than the paper it is printed on.
The Constitutional Recognition Review Committee has sought legal advice on the intricacies of changing Local Government's status, and is pursuing simultaneously the 'what do we want' and 'how do we get it' lines of enquiry. The question: is this really to the advantage of Local Government? has not yet been examined.
Certainly, the increased responsibilities for financial management, infrastructure maintenance and service delivery may sit hard with some Councils, particularly those outside urban and regional areas.
On the assumption that the next century of Federal Government in Australia will see some marked changes in our systems of governance, and without wishing to be pretentious, it may be that the work currently being undertaken in both Victoria and Tasmania regarding Constitutional Status will form the basis of a fresh approach for the 21st century.