The Federal Government has just confirmed it will bring a bill to Parliament next week to conduct a referendum in unison with the September 14 General Election seeking Constitutional Recognition for Local Government.
The form of the Referendum question is expected to reflect the recommendation from the Expert Panel set up by the Government in August 2011, which is to include Local Government in the Australian Constitution in what has become known as Financial Recognition. This will involve a small change to the wording of section 96 to include the words Local Government in the Federal Governments powers to distribute funding.
You may ask, but is this not already the case? Well yes it is, but the ability of the Federal Government to fund Local Government has been put in doubt due to recent High Court challenges. This will be the first referendum conducted in Australia since 1999, with the last successful one being in 1977. That is an interesting statistic, because very many voters were not born when the last successful referendum was conducted, so they have no experience of the potential. Labor has had a dismal record with referendum, only getting a single positive response to the 25 they have run.
All this makes the chance of success seem remote, which is a shame as a win is essential if Local Governments are to continue to get Federal funding. The alternative will be very bleak for Communities around Australia.