Journey to Constitutional recognition steams ahead

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has welcomed comments by the Federal Government that it is currently considering four referendum questions, including one dealing with recognition of Local Government. The questions would be put to voters during the next Parliamentary term.

“For the past 12 months, Local Government has been advocating the need for Constitutional change to improve the way the three levels of government operate in Australia,” said ALGA President Councillor Geoff Lake.

“In particular, we have been pushing for a clear statement to be inserted in the Constitution that expressly empowers the Federal Government to provide funds to Local Government.

“Since the High Court’s decision last year in the Pape case, it has been increasingly doubtful whether the Federal Government can continue its current practice of providing funds directly to councils.

“Given that Local Government receives most of its government funding from the Federal level and has done since the Whitlam Government, this uncertainty is regrettable and deserves redress.

“It’s important to stress that such change would not threaten or diminish State powers over councils in any way. State Governments would still be able to amalgamate, reform and sack councils in exactly the same way they can at present.

“All this change would do is drag the Constitution into the 21st century by expressly enabling and supporting current practice.”

Councillor Lake, a member of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) alongside the Prime Minister and State and Territory leaders, has also welcomed the Government’s move to examine referendum options to encourage cooperative Federalism.

“You don’t need to sit around the COAG table to know that Australia’s Federation desperately needs renewal and reinvigoration,” Councillor Lake said. “Whatever the issue – whether it be climate change, major infrastructure, education or health reform – there are very few contemporary political issues that don’t require cooperation between at least two of the three levels of government. The Constitution should enable such cooperation, not hinder it.

“It defies belief that in 2010 we continue to have a situation where the three levels of government cannot function effectively because of a Constitutional framework devised in a completely different era, long before the motor car, centrally collected taxation, television, climate change and the internet.

“We support the Rudd Government’s commitment to building a better Federalism and see this as a logical first step towards realising the Government’s goal of lifting Australia’s productivity growth from 1.4 per cent to 2 per cent over the next four decades.”