Councillor Jeff Johnson.
Councillor Jeff Johnson.

Greens deal offers councils hope

A DEAL between Labor and The Greens at the Federal level could signal a new era for local councils, Ballina Greens councillor and former Page candidate, Jeff Johnson, said.

Newly-elected Greens Melbourne MP Adam Bandt yesterday formally sided with Labor in the ongoing battle to see who will form the new Government.

To secure the Greens’ support, Labor agreed to a raft of demands, such as a dental health care plan, a $20 million study for a fast train, a parliamentary climate change committee, a parliamentary debate on the war in Afghanistan, and moves towards a referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.

However, the deal amounts to nothing if Labor fails to win the support of enough independents to form government.

Cr Johnson said one of the most critical concessions, from a Northern Rivers perspective, was an agreement to ‘move towards’ areferendum to give constitutional recognition to local councils.

Under existing rules, councils exist at the whim of state governments. That demonstrates itself most visibly in the ability of state governments to force separate councils to amalgamate. But for councils the bigger issue has been ‘cost shifting’ – the practice of passing responsibilities to councils without ensuring they have the funds to cover those responsibilities.

Northern Rivers councils have been pushing to have local government enshrined in the Constitution as a way of escaping the control of state governments.

More importantly, it would pave the way for councils to get their own slice of GST revenue, which would provide secure funding without the need to increase rates or continuously apply for grants to help pay for projects.

“It would mean greater funding for the services councils provide,” Cr Johnson said.

“It’s widely recognised that it (local government) is the most efficient form of service delivery, and we currently get only 3 per cent of funding.

“It would improve the economic sustainability of councils which are under stress.”

For The Greens the deal also included a commitment to allow full debate of private members’ bills and the chance to run Greens policy ideas through Treasury, raising the possibility of Greens-initiated legislation working its way through Parliament.

However, Cr Johnson said the access to Treasury officials enshrined in the deal would mainly be used to apply more rigour to amendments offered by The Greens in the Senate.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Cr Johnson said.

However, while the deal and The Greens’ new power in the Senate offered the party a chance to increase its political legitimacy, Cr Johnson also conceded it contained some risk if the party failed to meet public expectations.

“It’s all about public perception,” he said. “If you’re talking about the Senate role, The Greens only have the balance of power when the major parties disagree.”



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