Councils hoping for recognition

LISMORE mayor Jenny Dowell welcomed the Rudd Government’s announcement yesterday that it would fund a $250,000 education campaign to promote a referendum to include local government in the Australian Constitution.

The announcement was made by Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese, who opened the 2010 National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra in front of more than 700 mayors and councillors from across Australia.

“I’m delighted, it’s fantastic,” said Cr Dowell, who will travel to Canberra tomorrow for the final day of the conference.

“It will be recognition that the third tier of government is just as important in the day-to-day lives of people as the other two, and it could be argued even more so.”

Yesterday’s announcement follows a four-year campaign by local government to amend the constitution to resolve the uncertainty over whether the Federal Government can fund councils directly.

This uncertainly was underlined last year following the High Court’s Pape decision, which indicated that the Federal Government lacked constitutional power to fund local government.

“Legitimacy under the constitution would allow local government to argue for a fair share of taxation revenue,” Cr Dowell said.

She said while the NSW Government had about 100 different taxes at its disposal to raise revenue, councils could only strike rates.

A landmark report by financial consultants FinStar two years ago found that unless the country’s councils broadened their revenue base they would become financially unsustainable.

Australian Local Government Association president Geoff Lake said it was in everyone’s interest to resolve the uncertainty surrounding councils’ revenue base.

“It is certainly in the interests of state governments and councils. However, most significantly, it is in the interests of the millions of Australian ratepayers who deserve to see their funding burden eased by more general taxation revenue flowing to local government.”

Cr Dowell said it was important that the constitutional recognition of local government was accepted by all parties after two previous referendums on the issue had been knocked back.

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