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Parliamentary Committee Recommends Referendum On Local Government

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government has recommended that a referendum on financial recognition of local government be held in conjunction with this year’s federal election.

The Committee recommends that Section 96 of the Constitution be amended to read:

…the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State or to any local government body formed by State or Territory legislation on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

The report argues that uncertainty arising from the High Court’s Pape v Commissioner of Taxation (2009) and Williams v Commonwealth of Australia (2012) cases creates a “moment for action” that should result in a referendum this year.

The Joint Select Committee is chaired by Labor MP Michelle Rowland. Its Deputy Chair is Liberal Senator David Bushby. The Committee’s 12 members consist of 5 Labor, 4 Liberals, 1 Nationals, 1 Greens and 1 Independent. Seven members are from the House and five from the Senate.

The Coalition members of the Committee issued a dissenting report. They argued that the Coalition supports financial recognition of local government in the Constitution but that conditions laid down by the Expert Panel which preceded the Joint Select Committee’s formation had not been met.

The Expert Panel recommended that the Commonwealth negotiate with the States to achieve their support. It also recommended that the Commonwealth adopt steps suggested by the Australian Local Government Association to achieve informed and positive public engagement with the issue.

The Coalition members argue that there is insufficient time to satisfy these conditions and this will decrease the chances of the referendum succeeding.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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