The opportunities and pressing need for constitutional change, and in particular local government's efforts towards constitutional recognition, have been top of mind this week as the Federal Government continues to consider whether amendments are needed to section 44 of the constitution in light of the double citizenship saga last year.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which is looking into the issue, announced on Monday that it would extend the time for its inquiry to allow for a thorough and careful consideration of the issues before finalising its report.
The Committee may well recommend a change to the Constitution and if such a recommendation were to be made, it would present an opportunity for our sector to reinforce our own calls for local government’s inclusion in the Constitution.
While the focus more recently has been on the question of Indigenous recognition, our sector's constitutional recognition remains an important issue. The uncertainty created on the Commonwealth's ability to fund local government directly by two High Court challenges (the Pape and Williams cases) remains. Without constitutional recognition, direct Commonwealth funding of local government through programs such as Roads to Recovery is at risk of challenge. Our sector needs certainty and security of funding so that we can continue to provide the range and level of services expected by the community.
In response to community demand, our councils have become involved in much wider areas than the traditional property and roads infrastructure, and the demand for more services continues to grow. This means council resources are stretched to their limits to provide a greater range of services to fill a gap that should be funded by other levels of government. Although local government generates up to 90 per cent of its own revenue, funding from the Commonwealth through grants is an important source of revenue, particularly for regional and remote communities.
The only way to resolve legal uncertainty around this funding is through a referendum. This is why ALGA continues to seek opportunities to advocate for appropriate legal certainty of direct Commonwealth payments to local government, and is keeping a close eye on the Committee's proceedings.