ALGA intensifies push for recognition in Constitution

By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has increased pressure the federal government to have local governments officially recognised in the Constitution after Prime Minister Julia Gillard postponed another looming referendum that would have acknowledged indigenous Australians.

ALGA President, Felicity-ann Lewis has called on Canberra to establish a parliamentary committee on initiating a referendum on the matter of constitutional recognition for local government which, if successful, would concrete-in a third tier of Australian government.

But the Prime Minister and Labor’s enthusiasm for a local government referendum the next poll now appears diminished in the wake of the stalling of indigenous recognition in the Constitution.

A delay to the referendum would be a significant setback to the local government lobby which wants to formalise funding flows from Canberra.

ALGA wants to amend Section 96 of the Constitution to read as “Parliament may grant financial assistance to any state or local government body formed by or under a law of a state or territory on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit”.

The latest local government push follows a meeting between Ms Lewis and Local Government Minister Simon Crean, who has indicated that the government would consider establishing a Parliamentary Committee based on a proposal from the ALGA Board.

Ms Lewis said local government recognition in the Constitution was the only way to protect federal funding for community services and infrastructure.

“I have written to each political party, including the Independents, asking them to support ALGA’s proposed way forward on constitutional recognition of local government, including a Parliamentary Committee" Ms Lewis said.

"As part of our proposal, we are also seeking a federally funded community awareness program that educates the public regarding the Constitution, constitutional change and the local government question," Mayor Lewis said.

She said ALGA wants to ensure that all parties support direct funding of local government and have firm commitments on promoting its sustainability.

According to ALGA, financial recognition of local government could be on the agenda if Prime Minister Julia Gillard holds a referendum on the matter by 2013.

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