Local councils vote for a referendum

Australia’s councils have voted to demand a referendum giving local government constitutional recognition.

The motion, calling for the government to initiate a referendum “at the earliest opportunity”, was carried 201 votes to three at the National General Assembly of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) in Canberra on Monday.

“Local Government presently depends on the continued will of the various State legislatures to empower local government to exist and perform various functions,” the motion put forward by Toowoomba Regional Council states.

“It seems preferable that the Commonwealth entrench the right for councils to exist and perform certain roles.”

If agreed to by the government, it would be the third referendum on giving local councils constitutional recognition after previous referenda held under the Whitlam and Hawke Labor governments both crashed.

It’s also not the first time ALGA has taken a crack at a referendum. A motion for a referendum within five years was passed at last year’s NGA but was given a polite thumbs down by the federal government, which said in a subsequent letter to ALGA it had no immediate plans to change the constitution.

Qualified support from the government

Monday’s vote came after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told delegates earlier in the day that local government should be recognised in the constitution to enable direct funding.

“I think, I believe, I know that local government should be in the constitution,” he said to applause from the audience.

“There is probably no more important thing than the commonwealth be able to fund local government directly, so that we can avoid going through the bureaucracy and so that we can get the money direct to where it needs to go, and that’s right on the ground.”

But he added a referendum had to be worded in the right way to convince the Australian public, and it had to be put to them at the right time.

“I know we’ve had referenda on it before, but next time when it goes up  – and it has to, it should, it must –  we have to get the wording right. And we have to put it in at a time when the Australian voting public is in the mood that they’re going to carry it.”

Calls for action on climate change

The referendum was among the first of a total of 121 motions that are up for debate over the next two days.

Motions to restore Financial Assistance Grants, support recycling and take action on climate change also featured heavily in Monday’s debate.

Motions passed at the ALGA NGA

  • That the federal government declare a climate emergency
  • That a minister be appointed to assist councils in their response the changing environment
  • That the federal government establish a national strategy for climate change adaptation and resilience
  • That the government consider indemnifying councils that take climate change mitigation initiatives
  • That the current drought be elevated to natural disaster status

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7 thoughts on “Local councils vote for a referendum

  1. There is no way that local governments should be recognised in this manner. The corruption that is rife should be a warning that needs to be heeded.

    1. Hi Dan – Corruption and constitutional recognition are not really two issues that can be drawn together. Local government has the most extensive oversight mechanisms in the Australian federation, corruption is found and punished. Are you implying the Australian Federal government is less corrupt? Impossible to know when they have no oversight body (like an ICAC) to tell. The total sum cost of corruption in the local government sector is minuscule when compared to the number of elected officials and staff working in councils. It certainly ranks in integrity when compared to the private sector. To generalise across the whole sector like this, and use it as a reason to not constitutionally recognise our third tier of government is wrong and unfair.

      1. No! We pay power companies for power, we pay for water to who ever provides that service. We pay for our roads through registration and tolls and the excise tax and the gst on fuel.
        We DO NOT need councils. They’re a waste of money and resources.
        The Australian tax and rate payers have absolutely had enough! We say NO to third tier government! How many more times must we say it???

        1. Garbage collection, street lighting, sports fields, libraries, swimming pools, walking tracks, bike paths, parks, beaches, town centres, housing standards, support for small business, tourism, public toilets, environmental protection, weed control, local democracy, culture and identity…. I guess its easy to take some things for granted when they have been provided to you for so long you barely even notice them.

  2. Hi Dan. I do not necessarily agree with your comments. While there may be a local government agency here or there over the whole of Australia that may and I stress may be caught up in an illegal action the incidence is very very small compared to other Government Agencies and medium to large private enterprises which not until recent times hit the headlines in a big way. The real question is that all corruption must be addressed but it must be found out first hence the need for whistleblower laws to be strengthened to protect those people who feel morally bound to say something. I suggest a bit more research should be done by yourself before making such a bald statement. I suspect you may be worried about State Governments getting the short shrift here with money not being passed through them to local government and that jobs would go as a result at both Federal and State levels. I to worked in Government

  3. I’ve noticed that at council monthly meetings which councils reluctantly open to the public, comprising of residents and rate payers, anyone who wants to ask a question or make a short comment is forbidden to unless they had submitted the question or comment in writing two weeks beforehand.
    Ignoring this council standing order invites being escorted out by security as has happened to me.
    Essentially this mean that ratepayers are not the employers of therefore unaccountable council members.
    Were it made a iron clad written requirement that council must allocate 1 minute per attending ratepayer, to either ask a question or make a comment, the attending local newspaper reporter might have something to write about, for they never do.
    So, no, no referendum to make them the 3rd tier of govt, as they would become even more arrogant.

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