Constitutional Recognition report released
Local Government Minister Simon Crean has released the report by the independent Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government.
All members of the panel agreed that it is appropriate that the Commonwealth’s right to have a direct funding relationship with local government, when it is acting in the national interest, be acknowledged in the Constitution. While the majority of panel members supported a referendum in 2013, subject to State support and resources for a public awareness program, several members were concerned that there was not sufficient support for a success referendum.
“These members consider that a more substantial effort is needed to build public understanding and establish widely based social and political cross-sectional support before change is attempted. Some members hold that this should also include continued investigation of a modified form of recognition, including but not limited to financial recognition, which may have a greater prospect of success. However, at least one member considers that, based on the historical record and information gathered by the panel, the prospect of success in the future may still be remote.”
Mr Crean said the Expert Panel's work would play an important role in informing the community on the issue and assisting the Government on the best way forward. He said it was vital to protect the Commonwealth Governments ability to directly fund local government.
"Our experience with programs like Roads to Recovery and the recent stimulus package demonstrate the importance, the appropriateness and the advantages of being able to provide funding directly to local government," Mr Crean said.
"Local government was in a unique position to provide shovel ready projects and the ability to directly fund those projects was important to the success of the stimulus and the roads program in delivering jobs and much needed infrastructure.
"We also know that the ability of the Commonwealth to directly fund local government can create a relationship that supports, facilitates and drives collaboration among all three levels of government. It can also leverage additional investment in the regions which is good for local communities and for the country."
Chaired by former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, the Hon James Spigelman AC QC, the Expert Panel was asked to identify options for the constitutional recognition of local government and report on the level of support for constitutional recognition in the community.
A majority of the Panel members found that financial recognition is the only option with a reasonable chance to succeed at a referendum, provided steps are taken to secure the support of the States and achieve broader public awareness and engagement.
"The Expert Panel consulted widely with stakeholder groups and the community to look into the options for including local government in the Constitution," Mr Crean said.
"I thank Justice Spigelman and panel members for their efforts in implementing a national consultation process and for delivering their findings within the given timeframe."
Mr Crean noted the Federal Coalition's support for the recognition of local government and, in particular, the ability of the Commonwealth to fund local government.
"The Government will now take time to consider the community's views and details of the report before providing comment in early 2012."
The Government appointed the independent Panel in August 2011.
The Panel's report is available at www.localgovrecognition.gov.au