Jun 4, 2013

Question Without Notice – Constitutional Recognition of Local Government

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (14:53):  My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Minister for Regional Development and Local Government. How is the government building stronger communities by giving financial recognition to local government in the nation’s Constitution? How is this being done in a way that does not alter the existing powers of states and territories and why are the facts important when it comes to this issue?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) (14:53):  I thank the member for Greenway for her question and acknowledge the important work that she did as the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition. This is a proposition that has the support of both the government and the opposition as well as the minor parties in this parliament. Later today we will commence the discussion on the Local Government Recognition Bill.

It is important to note that in terms of the support out there in local communities over 490 councils have passed resolutions in support of the government’s proposal to recognise local government in the Constitution. This is absolutely vital, because the federal government does play an important role in terms of providing support for local government, including through programs such as the Roads to Recovery program, which deals with local roads, but also the 6,000 local community infrastructure projects that we have done through either the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program or the Regional Development Australia Fund. These are all absolutely vital projects that have made a difference to local communities.

We have made sure in the way that the wording has been framed that it will not change the relationship between state governments and local governments. It talks about local government which is created by the states and therefore created by and accountable to state governments. So it does not change that balance. We have seen a few scare campaigns out there reminiscent of the old daylight saving arguments that it will change the colour of your curtains and the cows will not milk in the morning. All of them are based on similar irrational views. A rational analysis of this change suggests that it is a moderate change but it is an important change. It is important that the Constitution reflect the actual governance structures in this nation, and they are that we have three tiers of government. This has been long supported by the Labor Party. This is also supported by the Leader of the Opposition. I congratulate the Leader of the National Party and others, including the members for Hinkley, Calare and Parkes and others, who I understand spoke at the National Party conference on the weekend and rebelled on the idea that there should be opposition to this referendum.

I think it is vital that this get as broad support as possible. It is commonsense change, it recognises modern reality as it exists here in Australia and it will ensure that there is no doubt whatsoever about whether the federal government can provide that vital funding that local government relies upon. I say to some of the state governments that they would not want to be in a position of having to step in were that knocked out in terms of the ability of the federal government to fund local government. (Time expired)