By Angela Dorizas
Local government has welcomed the Federal Government’s response to the Australia 2020 Summit despite widespread criticism that it fell short of expectations.
The Summit, held a year ago, saw 1000 Australians gather in Canberra to put forward new ideas and ways to meet future challenges.
Last week the Rudd Government responded with a commitment of immediately delivering only 9 of the 962 ideas.
Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president Cr Geoff Lake said all of the Summit ideas adopted by the Federal Government were “well aligned” with the national agenda of local government.
“If we were to run a 2020 Summit with 100 people across local government we would probably end up with a list that is not too dissimilar to what the 1000 people who participated in the 2020 Summit came up with,” Cr Lake told GovernmentNews.
Cr Lake said the Federal Government’s response on the future of Australian governance provided reassurance that it was working towards reforming the Constitution.
“The part of most relevance to us was the Government’s indication that it was open to considering constitutional change, which is an area we’re certainly keen to progress as far as local government’s inclusion in the Constitution,” he said.
The Federal Government stated that it was “committed to taking steps towards the recognition of local government in the Commonwealth Constitution and has committed to a full and frank dialogue on this issue.”
The Government said it would progress the issue in partnership with ALGA and the Australian Council of Local Government, but did not indicate whether there was a timetable for consultation and reform, as in the case of Indigenous recognition.
This dashed expectations that a referendum on constitutional recognition could have been held as early as 2010. But for ALGA, 2010 had always been an unrealistic target.
“It has never been ALGA’s position that there must be a referendum by 2010 and in fact I’m happy to concede that I don’t think it is feasible to have a referendum by 2010,” Cr Lake said.
“We’ve got our sights set on somewhere between the next two elections – we’re talking about two to three years from now.”
The Federal Government said it also agreed in-part to adopting a formal role for local government in adapting national policies, citing the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG) as an example.
“The Government has established the Australian Council of Local Government to give local government a direct voice into Commonwealth policy making, and help accelerate the implementation of program innovation, performance improvements and accountability in service delivery,” the statement said.
The Government said that the inaugural meeting of the ACLG last November highlighted its “agenda for forging a new and stronger partnership with local government”.
Cr Lake welcomed the ACLG, but warned that it was not the formal representative of local government.
“The only way the Federal Government can engage formally with local government is through our organisation on the basis that we represent all councils across the country,” he said.
“The ACLG is a collection of local government stakeholders some of whom are elected, but many are not. It’s a really useful gathering, but it’s not, in my view, reflective of the national aggregated position of local government that comes through the positions that ALGA is able to put forward.”
Cr Lake added that overall ALGA was “very pleased with the level of engagement and treatment towards local government from the Rudd Government”.
The Federal Government will begin work on:
- A deployable civilian capacity to respond to emergencies in the region
- First steps towards an Indigenous Cultural Education and Knowledge Centre
- Mentoring in the workplace by skilled mature age Australians, or ‘Golden Gurus’
- $50 million for research towards the development of a bionic eye
- The Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Awards Scheme to support scholarships for students in Australia
- and Asia and deepen cultural understanding
- A dedicated ABC Children’s Channel
- A Business and School Connections Roundtable to partner businesses and schools
- A new ‘Skills for the Carbon Challenge’ initiative to train businesses in sustainability
- A Vocational Education Broadband Network to build a single post-secondary high speed broadband network
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