Tick ‘YES’ for Local Government
9 May 2013 at 11:05 am
For a referendum to include local government in the Australian Constitution to succeed, it requires all Australians to recognise the important role of local governments in local communities, writes Jieh-Yung Lo, Deputy Mayor of the City of Monash in Melbourne.
On September 14 2013, Australians will not only be voting for their next Federal Government but also may be asked to vote in a referendum whether the Constitution should formally recognise local government as the third level of government.
The first local council was established in 1840, well before the establishment of some colonial governments. Yet we as a level of government are still not recognised in the Constitution.
A referendum of such significance requires genuine support and understanding from all Australians. As the closest level of government to the community, I would like to see communities themselves voicing their opinions and views on this issue.
The referendum shouldn’t just be discussed or decided by a handful of state governments, local councils and peak bodies. The community itself, whom we as councillors are elected to serve, should have the final say.
The referendum will ask Australian voters whether they agree to provide the Commonwealth with the authority to directly fund local government. To ensure local councils are fully funded and supported to continue delivering services and infrastructure to the local community, Constitutional recognition needs to be implemented. Only through Constitutional recognition, would ensure that Federal Government grant programs such as Roads to Recovery and funding arrangements with local government are legal.
For the referendum to succeed, it requires all Australians to recognise the important role of local governments in local communities.
All Australians live in local communities and use local facilities every day. Local governments provide and supply many public services and infrastructure. According to the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), local government owns and manages over 80 per cent of the nation’s road network by length and owns and manages around $212 billion worth of physical assets. We are responsible for streets, footpaths, drainage, car parks, sporting facilities, libraries and parks.
Councils also play an important role in the design and planning of physical infrastructure, strategic planning of activity centres, development assessment and emergency management to help communities prepare and recover from natural disasters.
In addition to providing infrastructure, local government has become increasingly involved in delivering people services. It now delivers more than 150 services.
Some of these services affect the day to day lives of individuals and families. Councils across Australia provide social and welfare services such as recycling and garbage collection, childcare, aged care services and accommodation, health care, meals on wheels and counselling. The list is endless.
If local governments are not adequately funded, the provision, safety and standard of essential services will suffer. Constitutional recognition will protect what we already take for granted and give local government the funding security to better deliver the services that the community needs and deserves.
While communities and residents recognise us as an active level of government working for their interests, we are still absent on the Australian Constitution. I believe it’s fair for me to say that we, as a level of government, deserve recognition to ensure governance and federalism is restored in Australia.
To achieve complete federalism in Australia, we need to advocate and provide local government with greater autonomy through full constitutional recognition.
About the author: Jieh-Yung Lo is a Melbourne based writer and Deputy Mayor of the City of Monash.