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Political & civils rights advocate, animal lover & state co-ordinator for the Australian Federation Party

Notes regarding the recognition of local government by referenda in 2013 dated 20/3/12 click here


Australian 2013 Federal referendum "Recognising local government"

WORDING FOR THE REFERENDUM HAS JUST BEEN RELEASED 4/6/13 "Financial assistance to states and local government bodies. During a period of ten years and after the establishment of the commonwealth and thereafter until the parliament otherwise provides, the parliament may grant financial assistance to any state, or to any local government body formed by a law of a state."

The idea that we allow the constitutional recognition of local government will face a host of barriers, when it comes to selling the ideal to we the people, considering we have said no, twice in the past, 1974 and 1988.

On 3/9/1988 a referendum with the following context (provided by the AEC) was put to the Australian people. It was (3) Constitution Alteration (Local Government) 1988. The legislative proposal was,

"119A. Each State shall provide for the establishment & continuance of a system of local government, with local government bodies elected in accordance with the laws of the State & empowered to administer, and to make by-laws, for their respective areas in accordance with the laws of the State." The people voted NO, yet local government now write law, with out the right, the knowledge or the capacity to police or administer?

There are several ways in which to include local government in our constitution, financially as the LCA would prefer, and the main aim of local government in need of financial security, democratic, the hardest sell and as a third tier of government, an option that would be lost before the first shot is fired, and one of a symbolic nature.

"From my personal experience local government do not have the right people to write law, in fact to do much more than collect our rubbish"

If we tackle the financial security option, section 96 of the constitution could be amended to read “new words highlighted” (the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State “or to any local government body” on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit)

 “The case of Pape vs Commissioner of Taxation (2009) highlighted the need for financial recognition to ensure clear passage of commonwealth funding”

The issue of terms would still open the door to controlling forces on the freedom of local government to operate, and may end up a wedge on policy separatism from Commonwealth and State ideals, in particular when alternate parties are elected at state and federal level. 

To go down the path of democratic inclusion, would open the door to mass speculation and fear, in respect to another over politicised tier of government, with legislation of state government now empowering local government bodies, beyond their constitutional powers.

State governments would have trouble accepting such a shift as to who controls the local direction of their arena, of particular concern for the States and Territories would be the retention of the power to dismiss a local government and appoint an administration in the limited number of cases where a council is either corrupt or dysfunctional.

This situation in itself opens the door to local government falling back on inclusion in the state constitution rather than the commonwealth, if however a correlation can be found which protects the state interests, it would be along the lines of “Each State shall, and each Territory may, provide for the establishment of, or continuance of a system of local government bodies elected in accordance with the laws of the State or Territory”.

"Again this would open the door to a mired of red tape, costs and poorly constructed by-laws"

Any option that relates to constitutional recognition beyond simple matters of funding, will interfere with the ability for State government to police local issues, such as the pre-mentioned corruption issues and indeed possibly include by-laws and the state’s legislative agenda, not to mention the high court may be forced to throw their hat in the ring regarding any inclusion of local government in the preamble.

Inclusion at state constitutional level would allow for greater detail, without fear of well established grass roots NO Campaigns, but this option is not on the LGA’s preferred lists, as it is the federal grants they wish to receive direct and without state government restrictions. 

Having spent many years on the NO side of constitutional recognition, it seems from a constitutional level that inclusion in section 96 of the Act, would be acceptable to both voters and the Local council, without impeding on the separation of powers, or the original intention of the Commonwealth Constitution Act itself, well on the balance of probability's.

"Local government already do too much damage while bluffing that they have power, so recognition will surely empower many and open the door to increased corruption and self interest".

Local government bodies have existed in Australia since the establishment of the Adelaide Corporation (now the City of Adelaide) in 1840. Across Australia, the 560 odd local government bodies, promote local interests and deliver important services and infrastructure at a direct community level. It would be only fair as such, that these bodies received some official recognition, but to go beyond financial security, I feel too many issues would need to be addressed, leaving any such sell to possible failure.

The councils are already putting aside a rather tidy sum, to sell their chosen ideal, so let’s hope they stick with change that will this time be acceptable to the public of Australia this time. Over the past hundred years or so, only 8 out of 44 referenda have been carried. In Sir Robert Menzies' words, "to get an affirmative vote from the Australian people on a referendum proposal is one of the labours of Hercules. 

I'm a paragraph. Click once to begin entering your own content. You can change my font, size, line height, colour and more by highlighting part of me The only changes we the people have supported in the past, have been based around state debt in 1910 and 1928, Social services in 1946, Aboriginals in 1967 and in 1977 alterations to the Senate casual vacancies, referendums, the retirement of judges and our national song. and selecting the options from the toolbar.

Even thought the Commonwealth Parliament formally acknowledged the role of local government in Australia in 2006, it did not go as far as recommending constitutional recognition, as they themselves would be well aware of the issues such a move would face.

Recognition may enhance the ability of local councils to advocate the interests of their communities through collaboration with other levels of government. It could thus make a practical difference to local government’s ability to deliver local services and infrastructure, and to its future development as an continues part of the Australian Federation.

The only other avenue that I believe will be offered up by state government will be nothing more than symbolic, as they have self interest in retaining full control of local government agenda and finances, another fact that supports financial recognition to allow some freedom for local governance. 

Another major issue facing local government is the ground swell of opposition to their current use of by-laws, which are written up by state government and inept councils and enforced by local government, making a mockery of fair play. 

There would be huge opposition from many political activists to any inclusion that would further empower councils/shires to write law, and that in itself would also be a huge imposition on the daily running of councils. 

Becoming a third tier of government would be a huge impost on both the councils and the people, adding the risk of politicizing local government and with it the usual waste and cost burden to the local constituents. 

The simple adding of the words “or to any local government body” to section 96, seems an acceptable way forward for local government, and will allow direct funding from commonwealth grants, without interference by state governments whilst ensuring the present separation of powers remain intact.

My personal position goes beyond the research offered above, and relates to personal experience in dealing with local South Australian councils, which has more than proved to me as a citizen and indeed a local business man, that we can not only do with out any further empowerment of local government but more so we should be tightening their reigns.

They have become a law unto themselves, in fact they write what they label bi-laws with out the experience and professionalism to do so, they are ignorent of the peoples common law rights and indeed those embraced by our constitution, stifling local community's and businesses with excessive red tape and the biased brought about by 2 party political aspirants with in the ranks.

Corruption with in their ranks has been well noted and is obvious to any that indeed have been forced to endure trying to adhere to their many inept ideals, they destroy local businesses, community programs and any attempt to improve infrastructure from a simple garden shed to a local community clubs attempts to improve their services.

A prime example would be trying to get approval so sell home made sauce from your own driveway, or doing your best to organise a community event, just try it and see for yourselves.

Mark Aldridge Independent candidate and Community activist.