In 2013 Australians were to be asked to vote yes or no for the recognition of local government in the Australian Constitution. It was certainly the hot topic at the National General Assembly for Local Government in Canberra that year.
Why was this considered important?
Through your local council, you own and pay for the management and maintenance of roads, playing fields, swimming pools, libraries, recreation facilities, footpaths and cycle-ways. You pay to have your rubbish collected and for local sewage and stormwater systems. You pay to have clean water come out of your tap every day. You also pay for community services and other activities that make Eurobodalla a better and fairer place to live for everyone.
Councils can't financially meet all their community's needs from rates, fees and charges so they work in partnership with federal and state governments to ensure they can deliver important services and infrastructure that communities are entitled to.
Four out of every five dollars of tax that Australians pay is given to the federal government so it's very important that the community, through their local council, can receive their fair share of that money back through grants. [Up to the abolition of Federal Assisted Grants (FAG funds) this was the case] The Liberal government established the Roads to Recovery Program to help maintain local roads and subsequent Labor governments continued and increased this direct funding, providing more funding to local governments for other local community infrastructure. Without the billions of dollars that have been invested through councils across the country, our local communities would look very different.
In the last decade there have been two challenges to the Federal Government's direct funding of local government, known as the Paper and Williams cases. Some might remember the federal government paying for chaplains to be placed into Australian schools. Well this was challenged in the High Court and the argument put to the court, and accepted, was, that as local government is not recognised in the constitution, the Australian Government was not permitted to fund local government directly.
In essence, local government is not currently mentioned in the Constitution, so Local Government has no financial recognition in there. Local Government believes it needs a simple seventeen word change to ensure they continue to get the local services and infrastructure they need and deserve in the future. A YES vote for the financial recognition of local government in the referendum will keep the funds flowing. A YES vote will not change Local Government's relationship with the states or add to the bureaucracy.
The referendum was proposed to change s96 of the Constitution of Australia to allow the Commonwealth of Australia to directly fund local councils. Similar referendums failed to pass in 1974 and 1988 (below). The proposed constitutional alteration was passed by both Houses of Parliament as the Constitution Alteration (Local Government) 2013. The "yes" campaign was supported by both the government and opposition leader Tony Abbott. The federal government allocated $10 million to the "yes" campaign, but just $500,000 to the "no" campaign. The difference in funding led seven senators from the Coalition to vote against the referendum bill in the Senate, although it passed by 46 votes to eight. Section 128 of the Constitution requires a proposed constitutional amendment be submitted to the electors in a referendum no less than two months but no later than six months after passage. The referendum was originally planned to be held on the same day as the 2013 federal election, originally set for 14 September 2013. However, on 4 August, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd changed the general election date to 7 September, and Local Government Minister Catherine King announced that the referendum would be held on a later date. The Australian Labor Party was defeated at the 7 September 2013 federal election, and in October 2013 the Abbott Coalition government announced it would not proceed with the referendum.
Sources for the above information (adapted from Mayoral letter June 26th 3013) and Wikipedia