COAG entrenchment in Constitution: Gallop

By Angela Dorizas in Melbourne

Former Premier of Western Australia Geoff Gallop today proposed constitutional recognition of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) while speaking at the Local Government Constitutional Summit.

Dr Gallop said that the entrenchment of COAG in the Constitution would provide a new approach in the campaign for local government recognition.

"If the objective is one of shared responsibility for nationally agreed upon outcomes then the recognition being sought is a seat at the table," Dr Gallop said.

"This takes us to the Council of Australian Governments, where the Commonwealth, States and Territories, and the ALGA have a place.

"We might ask the question, ‘Should COAG be incorporated in the Australian Constitution?’ If yes, ‘Should local government be listed as one of the participants?’

"I don’t think there’s any doubt that if such a thing happened, local government would certainly have a very strong case to be included and I think the answer to that would certainly be in the affirmative."

Dr Gallop said the more important question was whether the Commonwealth and States would contemplate the entrenchment of COAG.

"Pragmatists would say the arrangements of COAG are best addressed by each generation, free of the sort of constraints that come with the provision in the Constitution," he said.

“I know that when COAG was set up to replace the Premier’s conference there was a discussion within government circles about legislation for COAG, but that didn’t even survive the test of ‘flexibility’.”

According to Dr Gallop, the inclusion of COAG in the Constitution would institutionalise national cooperation across all spheres of government.

Dr Gallop said that the inclusion of local government in the Constitution’s preamble was a viable option for seeking symbolic recognition.

He advised that whatever approach is taken, constitutional recognition was more likely to be achieved through joining with another campaign.

“Recognition is going to have to join with a campaign that has weight in the public imagination," he said.

He suggested the national reform agenda and the "indispensable role" of local government, along with other "big issues" of the day, such as climate change, productivity, the global financial crisis and social inclusion.

"If local government is put into these big debates, is part of the national reform agenda, there is a chance for constitutional recognition," Dr Gallop said.

"Considered in and of itself, I think, will be a battle too difficult to win."

President of ALGA Geoff Lake said the proposition of entrenching COAG added new element to the constitutional recognition debate.

"I think it is an interesting suggestion worth exploring further," Cr Lake told Government News.

"It is an interesting suggestion to be thrown into the bag of options being considered."

The Local Government Constitutional Summit is currently receiving advice from leading law experts, including Professor George Williams, on the best approach to seeking constitutional recognition. The local government sector is expected to deliver its position at the conclusion of the summit on Thursday.

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