Constitutional recognition gains momentum

Article image - Constitutional recognition gains momentum Prime Minister Julia Gillard and ALGA President, Councillor Genia McCaffery, at the opening sessions of the National General Assembly.

Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) President, Councillor Genia McCaffery, said that the Constitutional recognition project is the biggest ever taken on by the Association.Speaking at the recent National General Assembly of Local Government, staged in Canberra from 19-22 June, she told delegates that ALGA needs all councils to be "on board and on message with no deviations".

"We have across the board commitment at the Federal level so we now need to go to State Governments and our local members," Councillor McCaffery said. "There will also be an Indigenous referendum proposal so a 'yes/yes' campaign is vital to ensure there is no confusion.

"To date 320 councils have passed resolutions in support and we want this to be as close to
100 per cent of councils as soon as possible.

"It is an exciting challenge and although we have until 2013, the work must start now. Even if we fail there will still be many benefits from informing our communities about the important work that we do."

Speaking at the opening of the General Assembly, Prime Minister Julia Gillard emphasised the importance of the Commonwealth continuing to work in close partnership with Local Government to assist communities to recover from recent natural disasters as well as implement initiatives to foster economic growth.

She praised Local Government for its role in community leadership during the natural disasters which afflicted the country over the past year and presented a muddied flag recovered from the Queensland floods at Lockyer Valley.The flag had been given to the Prime Minister by one of the rescue teams and had been displayed at Parliament. She used this occasion to present the flag back to the Mayor of Lockyer Valley, Councillor Steve Jones.

She said that Local Governments should no longer be considered as only responsible for roads, rates and rubbish but recognised as sophisticated partners working to deliver essential local services to communities across country.

The Prime Minister said that Local Governments have an important role to play in influencing policy and meeting development challenges for what has been described as Australia's current "patchwork economy".

This year's State of the Regions report commissioned by ALGA stated that the current mining boom has generated economic extremes across the country and there is a risk that business confidence could evaporate in regions that are dependent on non mining activities.

Genia McCaffery has also welcomed the Prime Minister's support to have the role of Local Government recognised in the Australian Constitution. In coming to office, Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to a referendum on Constitutional recognition of Local Government by 2013.

It has been six years since a Prime Minister has spoken at the National General Assembly.

In his address to the Assembly, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was more guarded in his support for Constitutional recognition. He said that the Coalition would support the referendum provided it focuses on the ability on the Federal Government to provide direct funding to the Local Government and
does not mpact on State's rights.

Federal Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government Simon Crean told delegates that he will set up an expert panel on Constitutional recognition of Local Government. This expert panel will lead a national discussion on recognising Local Government in the Australian Constitution.

Councillor Genia McCaffery welcomed this and said that achieving Constitutional recognition will reaffirm Local Government's position as the third level of government in the Federation.

"ALGA has been engaged in a process aimed at Constitutional recognition since 2007, including commissioning social research on community attitudes and understanding of Local Government and the Constitution," she said.

"Local Government plays a vitally important role in the day to day lives of the Australian people, but what many Australians do not realise is that Local Government is the only level of government not recognised in the Australian Constitution.

"Local Government is the backbone of local communities and local economies and delivers infrastructure and services that everybody needs. Councils are called on to deliver services on behalf of the Commonwealth and State Governments because they are innovative, responsive, flexible and efficient.

"Including Local Government in the Australian Constitution will help to protect local services that we take for granted and ensure that councils have the funding security to provide the level of services that local communities need and deserve.

"ALGA has proposed a simple and pragmatic change to the Constitution to secure the continuation of direct Federal funding of Local Government. Such funding is currently provided under the Roads to Recovery Program and by any measure, this program has been an extremely successful example of the partnership between the Australian Government and Local Government.

"ALGA will be putting the case to the expert panel that this partnership, aimed at benefiting all communities in Australia, should be able to continue."