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Referendum to be held on local government

on 15/03/2019

Australians will be asked whether they agree to the financial recognition of local government in the Constitution.

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But, although the proposal has bipartisan support at a federal level, the opposition is predicting it will fail, just like two previous attempts.

The support of a majority of voters in at least four states is necessary for any federal referendum to succeed.

In the past, two states – Victoria and Western Australia – have urged voters not to support the local government proposal at referendums.

Their concerns centre around the fact that the change would allow the Commonwealth to directly fund projects handled by local councils.

This would mean the states would have no control over allocation of the money.

Efforts to secure the states’ support for a referendum intensified after the High Court ruled last June that the national school chaplaincy program was constitutionally invalid because it exceeded the Commonwealth’s funding powers.

That ruling threw into doubt Commonwealth funding of local government projects such as the Roads to Recovery program, as well as services such as childcare, sporting fields, swimming pools and libraries.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the proposed consitutional change is all about catching up with today’s reality, and would not affect the relationship between local and state governments.

“The referendum, the proposal for change would not change the ability of state government’s to legislate for local government including legislating amalgamations,” This is about recognising local government’s role. Decisions are made by federal governments and by state governments and local governments themselves which goes to their available resources,” she says.

Local governments are backing the proposal, saying it would be a simple change to enshrine in law what already happens.

Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-Ann Lewis says a yes vote would ensure communities keep getting vital money from the federal government.

“That we can have the surety and assurance of funding payments coming from the federal government into local communities, Ms Lewis says.

“There are a vast range of programs which regularly and have done for many years received payments to provide vital infrastructure and programs and services within our community. That’s what this referendum is all about.”

Federal Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese has urged people to vote ‘yes’, saying constitutional recognition would simply reflect modern Australia.

He says it’s a modest change but an important one.

“It recognises the reality of modern Australia. The reality in which local government has long ago moved beyond just being rates, roads and rubbish,” Mr Albanese says.

“Local government that’s engaged in child care, that’s involved in a range of service provisions, and we want to recognise that.”

Nationals local government spokeswoman Barnaby Joyce says it is unclear how the government would win the states’ support for the changes.

He’s told the ABC the Coalition supports the proposal, but he’s predicting it will fail.

“Yes we will be urging a yes vote. There is the answer, we will be urging a yes vote. But of course what’s going to happen it’s going to fall flat on its face,” Mr Joyce says.

“And once these things are off the agenda, once the referendum is lost. You know we are up the proverbial ditch.”

Australians have approved just eight out of 44 federal referendum proposals since federation.


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