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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19 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.

          1. Chris, Local Councils don’t need Constitutional recognition to collect garbage, now grass, build bike paths, etc. They certainly have no business being involved with local democracy, culture or identity. Seems as though you just won’t accept that they are not recognised in our Constitution and are therefore NOT a third tier of government. They were not included in nor recognised in our Constitution for good reason.

          2. Your actually wrong on a number of those as they are funded at a state level with in out from federal and state grants and gst revenue

      2. And recognising/allowing a third tier of government will just embolden those in council to become more corrupt. My local council was sacked a few years back due to their corrupt activities and I have absolutely no intentions of allowing them more power. As it is they over-reach with the fines and penalties they make up and place on the rate payers already and implement actions as they wish against the will of the community. I certainly hope that Australian’s are awake enough not to allow this to go ahead.

      3. Chris;
        I think you are quite correct.
        We appear to accept ‘institutionalised corruption’ at the highest level, with strong financial and business links between industry groups and their lobbyists and the federal government, yet people like Mary & Dan here rail against the Local Governments, which at least are relatively answerable.
        Local Government is more democratic than any other level and in fact more closely approximates the original Greek model, or the Swiss Cantonments.
        As you say, it’s like; “What did the Romans ever do for us?”

    2. Absolutely right, just recently another council sacked (Casey, Vic) for corruption, it’s about time councils start to work for the people not others with vested interests. I would like to know what the ulterior motive for this referendum, they keep getting knocked out, it can’t be that they just want more control and certainty of funds. What else are we not being told?

  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.

  4. I am inclined to agree that local government might well be recognised in the constitution, but then this article descends directly into the same old tirade on ‘climate change’ and all the rest of it. Problem is, local councillors and worse council staff are rarely if ever trained and qualified scientists.

    The old ‘council worker’, and ‘shire clerk’ haven’t changed, beyond giving them all fancy names, when we have been obliged to sit by for decades while they pointedly ignore clear advice, refuse to come with us on our field studies to see what we are showing them, unless it’s their version, their ‘interpretation’.

    I know for fact, from long experience, that anthropologists, planners, architects, designers, all the relevant professions informing human living space, are routinely and systematically ignored in local government, and worse, we have to go back up to state and federal level to get them to make sensible decisions based on facts and evidence, not just what the local bosses and party factions want.

    Assuming local government has this latest referendum passed, there are very real questions to be raised on whether they will simply restate the likes of Tim Flannery’s Climate Council, still refusing to consult broadly, still pandering to sectional interests.

    Shifting climate patterns affect all of us, not only the self-appointed political classes brokering exclusive access to ‘science’. We all have a right to speak on these matters.

  5. Hi Gil. In connection with your comments in relation to local governments role in relation to climate change I to know from fact just the opposite from you and it is suggested that you take a deeper look at how proactive local government is on these matters.I personally know many councils that have done much good work in the environmental space including the mitigation of greenhouse gasses which have included placing solar on all their buildings, liaison with environmental groups and communicating with their community on the issue and providing grants for works.
    You should know that they also employ well educated people in the environmental sciences to conduct their business in this field, be it in house employment or through consultancies.They do so for planners and all other professions also. What you may not know is that they all have to work within complex frameworks of not only their policies and strategic planning frameworks but that of State Planning Provisions and that of Federal Government. Given at present they also operate under licence from State Governments the politics of any significant issue at their operational level can or maybe influenced by the above stated. I am glad that you do support Constitutional recognition though as local government will have more skin in the game and hopefully more influence

  6. I will vote for councils when we abolish State Governments Until then the people have spoken three times

  7. By wanting constitutional recognition State governments, despite their local government acts, and Councils, are acknowledging they, Councils, are not “government”. Much of what councils do under state authority via local government acts is unlawful. The only way state local government acts can become lawful is to have a third tier of government enshrined in the constitution. We do not need a third tier of government and all that goes with that enshrined in our constitution. Councils should just be that, municipal councils looking after local roads, animal control, parks, gardens, swimming pools, rubbish removal etc. They should have no say in peoples lives or what they do on their property and certainly should not be allowed to make “laws” in respect to same. Its bad enough we have two levels of government making laws that often adversely impact on people with adding another level. Time we did away with large regional councils and returned to smaller, localised, councils that are there for their town.

  8. Hi Steve so will I if we wait around long enough it will happen because the efficiencies of the digital world will force it to happen over time. Note there are 2,000,000 public servants employed over the three tiers of government which represents just under 10 per cent of the population of Australia providing government services.

  9. So does this mean all fines issued by council are unlawful as they aren’t a government and have no right to make laws?

  10. I find that there is a very parochial element in the commentary of some of the above.
    With 576 local “councils” in Australia, and hence a large number of mayors and councillors, statistically, there has to be some incompetence and corruption. Most Local Government Acts weed out those unacceptable groups/individuals fairly quickly. They are a very small proportion of the Whole.
    Local Government is closer to us all on a daily basis. How many go to the local State member to discuss most matters of personal or family concern? And, even less so the Federal member. Democracy and heritage are the two core issues in most local communities these days. There is no way that the State nor the Federal Government have or would want to delve into such local issues.
    Another issue is to do with pay. Councillors are, on the whole, paid a pittance. After all, it is for “Queen and Country”. The amateur status is alive and well. The imbalance with work done, and required, versus State and Federal politicians, is HUGE!!
    Let us hope that Local Government gains the appropriate Constitutional recognition that all Australian Local communities deserve.

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