By Angela Dorizas
The Federal Government has thrown its weight behind local government’s campaign for constitutional recognition.
In an address to the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG) on Friday, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was committed to pursuing a referendum on formal recognition of local government in the Australian Constitution.
“Before we took office in 2007, we said we would take steps towards constitutional recognition of local government,” he said.
“Let me assure you that the Australian Government remains absolutely committed to amending the Constitution to reflect the important role of local government in our nation’s history and the vital role that you play.”
The Federal Government has committed $250,000 towards local government’s community education campaign on constitutional recognition of local government.
Mr Rudd said the funding would help local government raise awareness of the role of local government and “the benefits to all Australians of local government recognition in our Constitution”.
He said the effects of the global financial crisis were still “clearly visible” in local communities and further work was required to meet existing and future challenges.
“We also have large long term challenges which can no longer be neglected: challenges that come from managing returned growth; challenges that come with the need to build a foundation for future prosperity in all parts of the nation; challenges that come with a growing and ageing population," Mr Rudd said.
“These challenges demand a careful and planned response. That’s why the partnership between the Australian Government and local government must remain strong.”
Constitutional recognition of local government has been backed by both the Coalition and the Australian Greens.
Leader of the Nationals and shadow minister for local government, Warren Truss, said the Coalition would support constitutional recognition of local government, so long as the question put to the public was likely to succeed.
“I suppose everybody puts that caveat on it,” Mr Truss told Government News.
“I don’t want to support a referendum or put the tax payers to the expense of having a referendum that might fail.”
Mr Truss said financial recognition of local government in the Constitution would be the best approach.
“We need to have a question that will be likely to be supported and I think one surrounding, and assuring the legitimacy of, the Commonwealth funding direct to local government is one that is most likely to win support,” he said.
“Personally, I would like to go further than that, but if we put up a question that is one bridge too far for the public then we have lost the opportunity to make progress.”
In an address to the Australian Local Govenrment Association (ALGA) National General Assembly on Thursday, shadow minister for finance and debt reduction, Andrew Robb, said direct funding of local government would cut out the “state middleman”.
Speaking on behalf of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Mr Robb said a shift towards direct funding of local government would be part of a “broader policy to place local government on a more sustainable financial footing”.
Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown, told the ALGA assembly that the campaign for constitutional recognition of local government would also have the support of his party.
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