Councils warned on ‘loose cannon’ premiers

By Angela Dorizas in Melbourne

Councils have been warned that their state and territory leaders may turn out to be "loose cannons" in their campaign for constitutional recognition.

Speaking at the Local Government Constitutional Summit held in Melbourne, political commentator Keith Suter told councils that they would need more than bipartisan support to be successful in their pursuit for recognition.

"Be careful of the loose cannons on the gun deck, for example state premiers, that may decide to run with their own agenda," Dr Suter said.

"These are the people that you’ve got to win over, so find out what you don’t know that you should know."

The Attorney-General Robert McClelland, who was the final federal minister to speak at this week’s summit, told Government News that there was some truth behind Mr Suter’s warning.

"Irrespective of political persuasions some state leaders are naturally respectful of local government, others use the opportunity to beat up on them when they see it in their own electoral advantage," Mr McClelland said.

"I suppose it is difficult to be partisan or judgemental of individuals, but certainly there have been incidences where state leaders have been opportunistic in their attack on local government. I think to that extent there is some substance in what’s been said."

Earlier this week, Federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull told councils to be wary of state and territory opposition in their campaign for inclusion in the Australian Constitution.

"Plainly, one of the issues or tensions is the relationship between state governments and local government," Mr Turnbull said.

"You can well imagine that any constitutional amendment, which was perceived as having potential for limiting the jurisdiction of state government would find itself being opposed very strenuously by at least some of those state governments.

"It is going to be very important for you as you go forward with this agenda to build that constituency brick by brick and make sure that you don’t simply look at who is in favour of a constitutional amendment, but identify who may be opposed to it and make sure that you accommodate them and bring them on side."

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