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The Referendum That Wasn’t Constitutional Recognition of Local Government and Australia’s Ongoing Federal Reform Dilemma Gilbert + Tobin Centre UNSW Constitutional Law Conference, 14 February 2014 A J Brown

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The Referendum That Wasn’t

Constitutional Recognition of Local Governmentand Australia’s Ongoing Federal Reform Dilemma

Gilbert + Tobin Centre UNSW Constitutional Law Conference, 14 February 2014

A J Brown

Professor of Public Policy & LawCentre for Governance & Public Policy, Griffith University, QLD<www.griffith.edu.au/federalism>

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1974 – Section 96A, as proposed to be inserted:

The Parliament may grant financial assistance to any local government body on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

1988 – Section 119A, as proposed to be inserted (Ch V):

Each State shall provide for the establishment and continuance of a system of local government, with local government bodies elected in accordance with the laws of the State and empowered to administer, and to make by-laws for, their respective areas in accordance with the laws of the State.

2013 – Section 96, as proposed to be amended:

During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State, or to any local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

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What’s It Going to Take?

Public ownership and education

Sound and sensible proposals

Bipartisanship / political consensus

1. Problem(s) need addressing / positive reason to change

2. Fair consensus that this change will address / achieve result

3. Downsides or risks to the change are negligible / worth it

4. Issue is important relative to other issues

5. ‘Utopian moment’ – contribute to destiny as a nation

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Australian Constitutional Values Survey

  • Conducted nationally in Australia by Newspoll Limited
  • Funded by the Australian Research Council, Discovery Project DP0666833 – led by Griffith University, with Charles Sturt University, University of New England and the University of Melbourne
  • Conducted by telephone May 2008, March 2010, October 2012
  • Stratified random sample, respondents aged 18 years and over
  • Results post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics data on age, highest level of schooling, sex, and area
  • 2008: 1,201 respondents; 2010: 1,100 respondents; 2012, n=1,219.
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Support for substantive, reform-driven recognition of local government (ACVS 2008)

(If changes state there must always be a system of localgovernment, set rules and standards of accountability, andguarantee a reasonable level of funding for local govt)

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Attitudes towards amount of power in levels of government (ACVS 2012)

Questions:Which level of government, if any, do you think needs more power today? Which level of government, if any, do you think has too much power today?

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Prospects for Reform (ACVS 2012)

At the moment, the Constitution does not actually mention or officially recognise that local government exists in Australia. Which one of the following comes closest to your view?

Thinking about other things that could be changed in the Constitution. Do you think it is important, or not important for Australia to have a referendum about the following things in the next few years. [If important, is that very important or somewhat important?]

A FIRST, THEN B-D RANDOMISED, MAINTAINING ORDER C-D

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Perceived most effective level of government (ACVS 2008, 2010, 2012)

Question: ‘If you think about how effective each level of government is in doing its particular job, which one level - federal, state or local - do you think currently does its job the most effectively?’

support for potential referendum issues total agree 7 10 alga 2009 2011
Support for potential referendum issues(Total agree 7-10) (ALGA 2009 & 2011)

Question: Please indicate whether you would be likely to support the following potential issues that could be put to a referendum? Base: Total n=1,502 voters

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IMPLICATIONS OF THE PROPOSAL

Why such a ‘near miss’?

Is recognition of local government a dead issue?

No.

Federal grants.

Band-aid solution.

Growing importance / political status.

The future: a stand alone issue?

No.

First, can’t be the same again.

Second, public resonance.

Third, support or at least minimum opposition of the States.

Fourth, too complex due to the extent of variation between States.

  • IMPLICATIONS OF THE PROPOSAL
  • 1) Why such a ‘near miss’?
  • 2) Is recognition of local government a dead issue?

No.

Federal grants; ‘Band-aid solution’ (Williams No. 2).

Growing functional importance / political status of the level.

  • 3) The future: a stand alone issue?

No. Must be a more comprehensive reform package.

- Can’t be the same again.

- Public resonance.

- Issues of importance to the States must also be resolved.

- Too complex due to the extent of variation between States.