By Julia Younger, edited for online by Matilda Butler.
Australians are being asked to vote on whether local government should be recognised in the constitution in a referendum at the same time as the federal election.
The vote has failed twice before and analysts question whether the latest attempt will succeed.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she wants Australians to vote “yes” to recognise the importance of local councils.
“Our constitution is 113 years and it doesn’t recognise the level of government which people deal with every day for services that are so important to their lives,” said Ms Gillard.
The announcement was made in Brisbane today.
“On more than 6,000 occasions, we’ve worked with local governments to develop projects that local communities need,” says Ms Gillard.
“Local infrastructure that makes such a difference to communities.”
Federal Local Government Minster Anthony Albanese told the ABC’s AM program it was time for local governments to be written into the constitution.
“What this referendum is about, is simply recognising the reality that the Federal Government provides support to local government and that local government, as the body that’s closest to the Australian people in terms of local community, deserves formal recognition in the Australian Constitution,” said Mr Albanese.
Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-Ann Lewis says a yes vote would secure funding and the relationship between the three tiers of government.
“I’m urging everyone in our local communities to engage with their councils to find out what this is all about so that people are very clear and understand fully the need for this to go ahead, to operate as three functional levels of government,” said Ms Lewis.
University of Canberra Assistant Professor of Government Robin Tennant-Wood says recognising local government in the constitution has been rejected twice before by Australians.
“It’s been put to referendum before and both times it’s been knocked back,” said Professor Tennant-Wood.
“Now we don’t change our constitution lightly and there has to be a damn good reason to do so.
Professor Tennant-Wood says it will be a hard sell for local government.
“People like to bash local government because it’s the most visible form of government,” she said.
“The council aren’t doing this. The council should be doing that. We pay too much rates. We don’t get value for money.
“So the local councils government associations are going to have to convince people of the value of having this level of government.”
Ms Lewis says it will be a tough campaign in a short timeframe.
“We know that we are very much under pressure now to try and get the air-time and air-space so that they do understand exactly why this is important and why they should vote yes,” said Ms Lewis.
Similar referenda were held in 1974 and 1988.
To see information about these referenda please click here.