All Australians live in local communities and use local facilities every day. They use local roads, footpaths and cycle-ways, parks, playing fields, swimming pools and libraries. Their rubbish gets collected regularly and every time it rains the water drains away through a stormwater system.
Australians pay for, manage and own these services through their local council and they elect their councillors to make sure local government meets their needs. Each community is unique, with different needs and different capacities and each council is different. But they all share one thing in common getting the best outcome for their local communities. Of course, councils can’t do the job of meeting the community’s needs on their own. Local government must work in partnership with the other two levels of government—the Federal Government and the States and Territories—to deliver services and infrastructure at the local level. Providing the increasing range of services expected by the community is often beyond the limited resources of local communities, local ratepayers and therefore most councils. Grants from other levels of government are critical. And it is reasonable to expect that some of the taxes paid to the State and the Federal Government will be used to provide services and infrastructure at the local level.
Because most of the tax paid by Australians goes to the Federal Government (more than $4 out of every $5 in tax is collected by Federal Government) it is important that the Federal Government can provide funding directly to councils to meet local community needs. The Federal Government has been doing so now for more than 10 years, since the Howard Government established the Roads to Recovery program to help maintain local roads. The Rudd and Gillard Governments have continued and increased that direct funding and have also provided funding for other local community infrastructure. This has allowed many billions of
dollars to be invested by councils in local infrastructure and services and it is difficult to know how many communities would have coped without this funding.
Recent decisions in the High Court have, however, cast doubt on the Federal Government’s ability to provide this direct funding to councils. The Constitution does not mention local government, nor does it provide for the Federal Government to fund councils directly.
To fix this problem we need a simple change to the Constitution to allow the Federal Government to continue to provide direct funding to councils so they can continue to meet community needs. It won’t change the way councils are elected or how they work, or the State Government’s ability to make changes to councils if they think that is necessary, but it will help to make sure that communities get the local services and infrastructure they need and deserve.
For more information on this topic please refer to the Australian Local Government Association website.