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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1852


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (10:03): On behalf of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, I present the committee’s final report entitled Final report on the majority finding of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government: the case for financial recognition, the likelihood of success and lessons from the history of constitutional referenda, incorporating dissenting reports, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee. I seek leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Ms ROWLAND: The committee was established on 1 November 2012 to inquire into and report on the majority finding of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government. A majority of expert panel members concluded that financial recognition is a viable option within the 2013 time frame. In this final report the committee recommends that a referendum on the financial recognition of local government be put to Australian voters at the 2013 federal election.

The committee's recommendation follows from its major finding that: there is a strong case for recognition; lessons from past successful referenda in Australia support a 2013 referendum; the prospects for success are good, due to existing bipartisan support at the federal level and the readiness of the Australian Local Government Association and local governments to campaign in support of change; the prospects for success will rely on the strong commitment and campaigning by ALGA and its member bodies; and the prospects for success will be greatly improved by the support of state governments.

During the course of the inquiry, the committee held two public hearings and received 252 submissions, seven supplementary submissions and four exhibits. The overwhelming majority of the evidence gathered supports an amendment to section 96 of the Constitution to shore up certainty around the direct federal funding of local government. The committee heard from many representatives of local government bodies from around the country which detailed why achieving constitutional certainty of direct funding has become a critical issue affecting day-to-day operations in their local areas.

Councillor Paul Bell of the Central Highlands Regional Council said:

It comes back to the reality of what might happen if Roads to Recovery was proven to be unconstitutional and we had to pay back the $3 billion that has already been given to local government.

The risks of delaying this decision are significant. Mayor Tim Laurence of Darebin City Council commented:

I think delay is very dangerous.

Mr Andrew Crankanthorp, Planning Director of the City of Wagga Wagga, put the case very simply and convincingly when he said:

I think there is enough time and enough will and that it is way too important for us not to proceed with a referendum.

The committee carefully considered the difficult question of the likelihood of success of a proposed 2013 referendum, and the committee's major finding reflects the evidence that we received during the inquiry.

Overall we found that the referendum has a good prospect of success and we noted that the support of state governments would greatly improve that prospect. The Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has already commenced negotiations to secure the support of the majority of state and territory governments for the referendum. Representatives of individual local governments showed great enthusiasm for campaigning for the referendum, and repeatedly referred to the strengths of 2013. The committee was heartened to hear from the Mayor of Mount Isa, the Honourable Tony McGrady, who commented:

… you are going to have an army of local councillors right across the continent all advocating a 'yes' vote—

and:

When this army goes into action, you will see a different environment.

We investigated the lessons to be learned from referenda held in 1974 and 1988 on recognition of local government and the committee noted that a lack of bipartisan support was a significant reason for the failure of these questions when put to the people.

The committee found that in 2013 there is strong support for this change from all sides of politics at the federal level, from constitutional law experts, from peak bodies such as the Australian Local Government Association, from local government bodies and from some state governments. A national civics education program, created under the guidance of a panel of referendum experts and key public figures, would also maximise the chances for a successful referendum this year. Taking the major finding into consideration, the committee recommends that a referendum on the financial recognition of local government be put to Australian voters at the 2013 federal election.

That concludes the work of this committee. Under its amended terms of appointment, we have completed our tasks and I thank all of my committee colleagues for their participation and cooperation in fulfilment of our duty to the parliament on this matter. My thanks go to all those who provided evidence to the inquiry and to the hard-working committee secretariat, including Thomas Gregory, Dr Glenn Worthington, Leonie Bury and Elly Cotsell.

I commend the report to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are there other speakers on this matter?

Ms ROWLAND: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The debate is adjourned and a resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting day.

Ms ROWLAND: by leave—I move:

That the order of the day be referred to the Federation Chamber for debate.

Question agreed to.