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Constitutional Recognition for Local Government

Recognising local government in the Constitution through a change to section 96 will allow local governments - and more importantly local communities - to continue to receive funding directly from the Australian Government to meet their local service and infrastructure needs.

What would constitutional recognition of local government mean for Australians?

Recognising local government in the Constitution through a change to section 96 will allow local governments - and more importantly local communities - to continue to receive funding directly from the Australian Government to meet their local service and infrastructure needs.

How are changes to the Constitution made?

The Federal Government can only propose a change to the Constitution. The proposal must be passed as a piece of legislation by both Houses of Parliament. It must then go to the people as a referendum question. Regardless of the change to the Constitution, the actual question put to the people is usually put in simple and general terms such as "Do you support the recognition of local government?" A majority of voters in a majority of states (the 6 states are counted, but the 2 territories do not count for this purpose) have to vote yes and a majority of the overall vote has to be yes for the referendum to be passed. This is called the "double majority".

What is wrong with the current Constitution?

The current Constitution has stood us in good stead for over 100 years but it does need updating. It no longer reflects the reality of the system of government in Australia. It does not even mention local government. This means there is uncertainty about how the Federal Government can work with local government and its ability to provide tax payers funds to councils. If the Federal Government is unable to provide these funds in the future, the current level of services and local infrastructure provided to the community through local government may not be able to continue.

Why is changing the Constitution so difficult?

It is very difficult to get the double majority required for a referendum to succeed. A majority of voters in a majority of states (the 6 states are counted, but the 2 territories do not count for this purpose) have to vote yes and a majority of the overall vote must be yes for a referendum to be passed. Also, history has shown that Australian voters have been conservative when it comes to changing the Constitution.

Why try for a third time to secure constitutional recognition of local government

This will be the third attempt at recognition for local government. Why try for a third time to secure constitutional recognition of local government? The last attempt to include local government in the Constitution was well over 20 years ago. Since then local governments have played an increasingly important role in providing a greater range of services and infrastructure to local communities. And a recent decision by the High Court in 2009 puts those services and infrastructure at risk.

What changes to the Constitution are being proposed?

The simplest change would be to add the words "and local government" to the relevant part of section 96 which already allows the Commonwealth to fund the states. It may appear to be small but it is significant and it is always best to keep the changes to a minimum. Inserting the words "and local government" into the Constitution will ensure that communities continue to receive the infrastructure and services from their local governments.

When would a referendum on local government be held?

This is up to the Government but, it would probably be at the same time as the next Federal Election. The next federal election is expected to be held in 2013.

Why should a State (or Territory) government support the proposed change?

Because it means additional resources for their state and that their local communities will be able to get the services and infrastructure they need and deserve with Federal Government funding, and without affecting the states' powers relating to local government.

If local government is already recognised in state constitutions, why not just change them?

Although local government is already recognised in the state constitutions, amending state constitutions will not fix the problem - which is to allow the Federal Government to fund local government directly to deliver local services and infrastructure.

Why should I vote 'yes'?

Like a vote in an election, each vote counts. It is important to become informed about the issues, so that you understand the issues and the question. If the local government referendum question is passed then it will ensure that there is no legal doubt or confusion about the ability of the Federal Government to provide direct funding to local government. This will allow local government to continue to provide services and infrastructure to the community.

What difference will a 'yes' vote make to local residents?

Ensuring that the Federal Government can continue to provide funding to local government will ensure that your local services and infrastructure such as local roads, libraries and parks and gardens are maintained. Local government will have more certainty in funding and will be able to improve its planning for local communities.