Constitutional recognition of local government


Budget Review 2011-12 Index

Budget 2011–12: Constitutional recognition of local government

Diane Spooner

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.[1]

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’.[2]

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’.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]  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.[7]  As a matter of context, 44 referenda have been put to the Australian public; 8 of which have passed.[8]



[1].          Australian Government, Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011, viewed 16 May 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/budget/2011-12/content/download/bp2.pdf, p.290.

[2].          Ibid., p. 291.

[3].          J Gillard (Prime Minister), W Swan (Deputy Prime Minister), R Oakshott and T Windsor, The Australian Labor Party and the Independents (R Oakshott and T Windsor) (‘the Parties’)–agreement, 7 September 2010, viewed 16 May 2011,http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3DId%3A%22library%2Fjrnart%2F218795%22, pp. 10-11 of Annex B.

[4].          J Gillard (Prime Minister), W Swan (Deputy Prime Minister), B Brown (Leader of the Australian Greens), C Milne (Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) and A Bandt, The Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens (‘the Parties)–agreement, 1 September 2010, viewed 16 May 2011, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fjrnart%2F218794%22, p. 2.

[5].          S Crean (Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government), Budget: Investing in Regional Australia, budget statement, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011, viewed 16 May 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/budget/2011-12/content/download/ms_rural_and_regional.pdf, p. 39. 

[6].          Further information on these two referenda and the development of local government is available at: L Magarrity, Local Government and the Commonwealth: an evolving relationship, Research paper, no. 10, 2010–11, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2011, viewed 16 May 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rp/2010-11/11rp10.pdf

[7].          L Magarrity, Local Government and the Commonwealth: an evolving relationship, op. cit., pp. 18 and 19.  A referendum will pass if it receives an affirmative vote by a majority of all voters in Australia and a majority affirmative vote in a majority of states (section 128 of the Australian Constitution).

[8].          S Bennett, The Politics of Constitutional Amendment, Research paper, no. 11, 2002–03, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2003, viewed 23 May 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rp/2002-03/03RP11.htm


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