Vale Bob Hawke, champion of 1988 Local Government Referendum

ALGA joins Australians in expressing its sadness over the death of former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

Australia’s 24th Prime Minister held a referendum in 1988 to give constitutional recognition for local government and create a new section, 119A.

“This would have recognised the existing reality of local governments in Australia as state-created entities but would not grant them any special powers or autonomy,” a Parliamentary Library research paper by Dr Lyndon Megarrity said.

“The wording of the text implied, however, that states were legally required to maintain a system of local government:

“[Proposed section 119A] Each State shall provide for the establishment and continuance of a system of local government, with local government bodies elected in accordance with the laws of the State and empowered to administer, and to make by-laws for, their respective areas in accordance with the laws of the State.”

Mr Hawke told parliament: This is a proposal which comes from local government itself, and has the support of Australians from across the political spectrum who believe, quite rightly, that the ability of local government to serve the people who elect it will be enhanced by constitutional recognition. There can be no more complete response to the Opposition critics of this proposal than to point to the fact that an overwhelming majority of local councils have expressed their support for it. The Australian Local Government Association could find no more than 23 local councils out of the 836 in Australia today where individual councillors have opposed this amendment.

But as happened in the 1974 referendum on local government, there was not a bipartisan consensus, with the Coalition arguing it was an attempt by Labor to centralise government.

The referendum drew only 33.61% of voter support and failed.

Prime Minister Hawke opened ALGA’s Canberra office on 26 February 1987.