Report calls for council constitutional recognition

By Adam Coleman

Local governments could better service their communities, including faster development approvals and providing improved schools if they received formal recognition in the Constitution and a higher proportion of tax revenue according to a new report.

In the report, Beyond Symbolism: Finding a Place for Local Government in Australia’s Constitution,  Dr Oliver Hartwich of the Centre for Independent Studies calls for a strong and proactive local government that has more control over its purse strings and is more connected to the people it serves.

“Local governments have the potential to deliver better local services to their communities,” says Hartwich.

“For example, primary and secondary education could be assigned to the local level rather than one-size-fits-all state government education. Local school boards could administer schools, offering parents a greater role and scope for tailoring schooling solutions to the needs of local communities.”

Local Government was bouyed last year when the the Rudd Government promised to hold consultations about the formal recognition of local government in the Commonwealth Constitution.

In December last year, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) convened a special Constitutional Summit that brought local government together to discuss and ultimately condone the tier’s place in the Constitution.

“Historically, Australian local governments have been weak,” says Hartwich. 

“Their decision-making powers have been pushed further from local people and transferred to higher, more remote tiers of government.”

According to Hartwich, local governments play an important role in the planning and development of the built environment in their jurisdiction yet are constantly criticised for slow approval of development application. 

“By giving a greater share of the tax revenue generated by development to the local rather than state government, councils would have the incentive to enable and speed up development,” says Hartwich.

"For local governments to be able to bring government closer to the people directly affected by its decisions, the Prime Minister must include a clear definition of the role of local government in the Constitution," she said. 

The currently embargoed report will be made available Thursday, 22 January on the CIS website.

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