17 October 2006
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.16 pm)—The Labor Party supports this parliamentary motion on local government. We support it because it is a small step in the direction of giving appropriate recognition to the important role that local government plays in the delivery of services at the local level. Local government is a particularly important tier of government because it is the tier that is closest to the people.
This motion of the federal parliament is essentially a symbolic statement, and that is why I have moved an amendment which would take this recognition of local government beyond simply a symbolic resolution of this House. That is why I have moved that all words in paragraph (1) be deleted and substituted by the following:
… supports a referendum to extend constitutional recognition to local government in recognition of the essential role it plays in the governance of Australia.
Labor has a longstanding policy of support for constitutional recognition of local government. The House of Representatives Economics, Finance and Public Administration Committee inquired into local government and was chaired by the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Hawker. The Hawker inquiry received a number of submissions from right around the nation and local government made it very clear that they do seek constitutional recognition. They seek constitutional recognition as an acknowledgment of the critical role that they play in providing local infrastructure and local services and in ensuring that there is democratic accountability. This is important because of the absolutely critical role that local government play.
Any of us who attend local branches of our respective political parties would know that local issues often dominate people’s concerns: what is happening with local swimming pools, local cleaning services and, in an electorate such as mine, support for multicultural services to the community. There is the celebration of local communities that occurs in my electorate through important functions such as the Carnival of Cultures that I attended, which was hosted by Ashfield Council some three weeks ago; the Marrickville Festival, which was held a couple of weeks before that; the Norton Street Festival, particularly with its celebration of the Italian community in Leichhardt; the Bairro Portugues Festival in Petersham, which is a celebration of the local Portuguese community; and, indeed, in a couple of weeks time, the Newtown Festival, which is a very colourful festival celebrating the diversity which exists in the inner western suburbs of Sydney.
So I would ask the government to support my amendment and come together with Labor in recognising, in a real way—not in just a symbolic way—the important role that local government plays. That could right some of the wrongs, it must be said, that have occurred in previous times when referendums asking for the recognition of local government in the Constitution were put before the Australian public and defeated.
I want to address the argument put by the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads in opposing Labor’s amendment. It was essentially: ‘The reason why we will not seek constitutional recognition of local government is that it would not be successful.’ I say this to the government: it will be successful if they join with Labor in supporting it. The only reason it was opposed was due to the opportunistic, cynical attitude of the current Prime Minister and the former member Peter Reith who pushed the no vote and ensured that the constitutional referendum was indeed not successful. It is quite clear that unless both of the major sides of politics in Australia agree on a constitutional proposition it will not be successful. I call upon the government to take the first step and support Labor’s amendment to this motion on local government. It will indicate to all of those hard-working mayors, councillors, local government workers and, indeed, electors out there that we recognise in a true and practical way the work that they do on behalf of the Australian community.