Budget 2011–12: Constitutional recognition of local government
The Government will provide $49.8 million over five years to the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government (the Department) ‘to strengthen the Government’s engagement with regional Australia’. Part of this measure includes funding for the implementation of specific policy commitments for the constitutional recognition of local government.
It is also made clear in Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2011–12 that this ‘measure delivers on the Government’s ‘Commitment to Regional Australia’ agreement’.
On 7 September 2010, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and independent members, Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor signed an agreement which enabled the ALP to form Government. Annex B to that agreement, ‘Commitment to Regional Australia’, included that the Government is ‘committed to working towards achieving constitutional recognition for local Government’ and noted that in 2010, ‘the Government allocated $250,000 for [the Australian Local Government Association] to help councils run community consultations and campaigns to build support’.
The ALP also entered into an agreement with the Australian Greens on 1 September 2010. One of the ‘Goals’ of the agreement included for the parties to work together and with other parliamentarians to:
Hold referenda during the 43rd Parliament or at the next election on Indigenous constitutional recognition and recognition of local government in the Constitution.
Simon Crean MP (Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government), in a Budget statement said:
An additional $9.4 million has been allocated to the Department to implement a range of specific priorities relevant to regional Australia, including delivering effective whole-or-Government responses to the challenges and opportunities that face regional Australia. These priorities include the progression of a referendum on constitutional recognition of local government, a Regional Development Policy Centre, and a taskforce aimed at developing options for a Government response to the social and economic impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
There have been two failed attempts to amend the Australian Constitution by referendum to provide recognition of local governments; once by the Whitlam Government in 1974 and once by the Hawke Government in 1988. The 1974 referendum received a total majority of 46.85 per cent in the affirmative and a majority vote in one state (New South Wales). The 1988 referendum received a total majority vote of 33.61 per cent in the affirmative and no majority vote in the states and territories. As a matter of context, 44 referenda have been put to the Australian public; 8 of which have passed.