Thursday, 16 August 2007
Member for Fadden; Local Government
I endorse the comments of the member for Moreton. David Jull has been a friend of mine for many years, and he has certainly given distinguished service, first to the electronic media, at Channel 0 and at numerous stations in Brisbane, and more recently as a member of parliament and a minister. I, for one, will lament his leaving this place, but I realise he has had a pretty rugged time with his health and I hope that leaving the stress of this place will give him the opportunity to have a happy and relaxed retirement.
I want to call today for a constitutional convention on local government. I do not do this lightly. Although the constitutional recognition of local government was the subject of a referendum some years ago, I think it probably did not get the attention it deserved because it was lumped in with three other issues. I think if it had been the sole issue it might have resonated better with the community.
The sort of constitutional convention I envisage is the convening, in the first instance, of a national conference of local government which would discuss these issues. From that conference we would have an elected body of people to come to the convention—perhaps six people from each state government, representatives from the federal government and distinguished Australians who have been associated with local government in the past. It would be something akin to what we had with our constitutional convention before the referendum on the republic.
At this constitutional convention, we should be looking at things like the parameters of local government, the authority of local government and, more importantly in the light of what has happened in Queensland in recent times, the genuine autonomy of local government. I do not know how you can have autonomous local government when councils are prevented from conducting a simple poll to get the ideas of their constituents. To me, that is an anathema to the whole idea of government and good governance.
We need to look, too, at the sorts of things that are best handled by local government and the extent to which cost shifting has been moved to local government. We complain at the Commonwealth level sometimes that the states cost-shift to us. But there is a good case to say that both tiers of executive government do pass on to local government an added burden, if not in the form of capital cost then certainly in extra work. Then we need to look at a commission to look at boundaries—not to radically change boundaries but to look at anomalous boundaries so that the more modern community of interest of each particular area is reflected.
If the constitutional convention were to say that there should be constitutional recognition of the financing of local government then I think those things should be the subject of a referendum, and once and for all we would take this uncertainty of the role of local government right out of the agenda. We would all know then what the relationship of the Commonwealth would be with local government; what responsibilities the states would have; which tier of government would supervise local government—be it federal or state—how it would be financed; what authorities, as I said, it would have to raise taxes and levies and rates; and, certainly and most importantly, what level of autonomy it should have and what authority it should have to prosecute the things that it needs to do. I put that in a bipartisan way to both sides of this Committee. We really need, in the light of what has happened first in Victoria and New South Wales, and now in Queensland, to do something about it. (Time expired)