A parliamentary committee is investigating whether Australians will back constitutional changes to enshrine federal government powers to fund local councils.
Financial recognition of local government in the Constitution would require the passing of a referendum, a move which has already failed twice before.
The Joint Standing Committee on the Constitutional Recognition of Local Government was established in late November to examine whether a referendum on the issue will be successful.
Chair Michelle Rowland said the committee will build on the work done by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, which was released late 2011.
“Financial recognition goes to the very heart of what it means to be a federated nation and people’s expectations of what their governments should provide for local communities,” she said.
“Right now, significant funding for local government is coming from the Commonwealth without it having any formal responsibility to do so.
“In the absence of explicit powers to do so in the Constitution, we are banking a future governments and courts making decisions that won’t detract from an increasing reliance on federal funds.
“And as anyone involved in local government will attest, one of the single biggest strains on their finances is the seemingly endless cost-shifting that occurs between all levels of government.”
Read Ms Rowland’s full comments here
The committee will also assess whether there is a need for more public education around the Constitution and referendum process prior to a referendum being held.
Two High Court decisions in recent years have cast doubt over whether federal funding of some programs could be open to constitutional challenge.
The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government recommended that support be secured to ensure that a referendum to amend section 96 of the constitution would be successful.
Securing constitutional change has proven difficult, with only eight out of 44 referenda put to the public over the years passing.
The committee is holding a public hearing in Sydney on January 16, 2013.
Submissions will close on February 15 with the committee expected to release its findings before the end of the month.