WIMMERA residents will vote on local government recognition in the Australian Constitution when they go to the polls on September 14.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Thursday thata referendum would be part of the federal election.
The national vote was a pre-election commitment by the Australian Labor Party during the 2010 federal election campaign.
Referendums, which require a majority of Australians and a majority of states to pass, are notoriously unsuccessful with just eight of the nation’s 44 votes being approved.
Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Andrew Evans said councils had been fighting for years to correct the ‘glitch’ in the Constitution that failed to recognise local government.
He said it would allow the Federal Government to direct money straight to councils rather than having to go through state governments.
“I think the Constitution needs to be updated to reflect the modern world and to reflect what we do in practice,” he said.
“Local government is surely here to stay so that should be recognised in the Constitution.
“The best thing for the overall community is for local government to be fitted into the Constitution.
“We are the tier of government closest to the community and it is only right and proper for us to be recognised.”
Northern Grampians Mayor Wayne Rice said constitutional recognition would act as a safeguard protecting local government.
“What people seem to forget is that there is more and more cost shifting from both upper levels of government to local government so you can’t do away with the people on the ground in councils,” he said.
“It will allow us direct access to the Federal Government so if they want to keep giving us more responsibility they can’t do away with us.
“There seems to be a bit of a ground swell in favour of this referendum.”
West Wimmera Shire Mayor Bruce Meyer said he was concerned that local government recognition would hand the Federal Government too much control over councils.
“If they want the right to be able to give grants directly to local government they could surely legislate it or work out a way to get it done,” he said.
“We still need to be dealing with our own states on the big issues for local government rather than going to Canberra with the Federal Government.
“I would reserve my judgment until we see the wording of this referendum legislation – is this a full takeover of control of local government by the Federal Government or are we just dealing with this direct funding issue?
“If it is a full takeover I am not interested.”
Horsham Mayor David Grimble said the referendum would require state support to be successful.
“Probably what we need to do is ensure that the public actually understand what this referendum is all about and its importance,” he said.
“The challenge is going to be to get all the states to support it too.”
Hindmarsh Mayor and Rural Councils Victoria chairman Rob Gersch said the referendum on September 14 would be the only chance for constitutional recognition for ‘many years’.
“It would be a lifetime to have another crack at it so it is imperative it is successful,” he said.
“The success rate of referendums is not good so when you go to a referendum you have to be fairly sure you are going to win it.
“If all state governments are on board and willing to support it, I am happy to roll with it.”
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