CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION, SUPER-COUNCILS – AND US.

With all the talk of a new paradigm at the Federal level, reformwcc has been promoting the pressing need for a new paradigm at the community level for some years now.

See, for example, http://reformwcc.info/new-life-design/

While the 20th century models of organisation have shown themselves to be reliable for the provision of certain services, they have equally shown themselves to be unable to deal with present and emerging major social and environmental issues. They can also be prone to various types of corruption.

Sooner or later, a political party operating with the same outmoded 20th century mentality, will try to find solutions to the mismanagement of state finances by insisting that we move to super-councils.

Combining Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama (for example) might appeal to the bean-counters and politicians alike in the name of ‘efficiency’.

This MBA notion of efficiency is based on a very narrow interpretation of community costs. It does not include the very real costs transferred to people in community.

But more importantly the move to super-councils represents another instance of community disempowerment and disengagement by taking the decision-makers further away from life in our everyday communities.

As it stands, constitutional recognition of local government will do nothing to stop this process.

What is required is a 21st century model of local government which actually includes effective and systematic community participation in the decision-making process.

I am not talking about the lightweight reference groups, council kiosks or neighbourhood forums which presently make up the suite of ‘community consultation’ methods in mode on the late 20th century.

What we need is the organisational means to bring an increasingly ‘unearthed’ decision-making back down to earth.

Rather than going further down the old paradigm pathway elevating the old 20th century model of local government to super-councils (for example), we need to be turning our minds to new forms of organisation which re-centralise local government back into the places where we actually live.

The present Ward level may be an appropriate level – with some finer tuning to reach into the ‘village’ level. We have some great new communication technologies as well – why not use them?

In an ideal world the Australian Local Government Association would be taking the lead in these matters – perhaps by generating a discussion paper on global best practice, and by putting its resources into the task of encouraging a much wider community discussion about what model of local government would work for us.

In the absence of that leadership, it is up to us to ensure that our interests are not overlooked in any rush to gain constitutional recognition of local government.

We can do this by raising issues of effective, systematic and well-resourced community participation in local government decision-making whenever the topic of constitutional recognition is raised.

If we don’t speak up for ourselves, rest assured, no-one else will.

Solomon, J – NSW corruption a problem and must be overcome

Developer loses appeal over ‘sex with planner’ lie

Sydney Morning Herald September 13, 2010

Corruption in NSW “must be overcome”, says a District Court judge, who has dismissed an appeal by a Wollongong developer convicted of lying to the corruption watchdog.

“The community must be told loudly and clearly that corruption in this state is a problem and must be overcome,” Judge Ronald Solomon said in Sydney’s Downing Centre District Court today.

“Persons who deal with ICAC must be full and frank with their disclosures, so deterrence is of great importance when it comes to these matters,” Judge Solomon said.

full story:
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/developer-loses-appeal-over-sex-with-planner-lie-20100913-158la.html

Campaign for recognition of a community based model of local government

With the ALP now forming government we can expect that preparations will be made for a referendum on the recognition of local government either during the life of the present Parliament, or the next Federal election.
As the situation is highly unstable (despite the hype about stability) it is difficult to know just how far off this will be.

My guess is the Coalition, sensing the wider public would be unhappy if we had to return to the polls too soon (and would punish the Coalition if it was seen to cause this), will concentrate on building up enough dissatisfaction with the new government for a fresh election to appear as the best course of action.

This will take at least a year if they are not to over-play their hand. There is also the March NSW State election to take into account, with the Liberals keen to maximize on dissatisfaction with the NSW ALP and win government here.

So we may not have the luxury of a three year campaign, but we have some time and need to make the most of it.

HOW DIFFICULT TO AMEND CONSTITUTION?

I wonder to what extent it would be possible to amend the Australian Constitution to gain recognition of local government as things presently stand with the wider Australian people.

There is a widespread cynicism regarding the importance of local government in the general community, with many people consistently undervaluing just how important local government is in our lives.

They often have good reason to be disenchanted since the present (20th century) model of local government is highly flawed and open to abuse. We need a new model of local government – one which can make use of new technologies and re-centre decision-making in our local communities.

It is no easy matter to amend the Australian Constitution, and some of the States may oppose such recognition if they regard it as a threat to their own power. So a real effort and campaign will be needed for a successful referendum.

On the positive side, the existence of local councils (of one kind or another) across Australia provide a vast network which should be able to assist in a campaign to gain Constitutional recognition.

No doubt such a campaign would build on the efforts of the Australian Local Government Association. They provide some good info on their present website, and talk about setting up a dedicated website. But will they promote a model of local government which actually empowers our local communities?

A COMMUNITY BASED MODEL OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The concern of reformwcc.info is to ensure that any model of local government which is recognised in the Australian Constitution also protects the role of community based committees (e.g. “Precinct Committees” or “Community Boards”) in Council decision making.

Long way to go on that one, and we start so far behind the pack that there is really very little chance of seeing this key design feature included in the discussion about Constitutional recognition.

Nothing new there, and this website will continue to pursue the issue of making sure that we get a 21st century model of local government recognised in the 21st century Australian Constitution.

The ALGA will be looking for support for the campaign, and success in the referendum may come down to a small margin.

A non-negotiable condition of our support must be that the model of local government recognised in the Australian Constitution includes recognition, protection and effective resourcing of community based committees (or similar) in Council decision-making.

We may never get another chance to gain Constitutional recognition these much needed reforms.

Bruce Reyburn
10 September 2010

Constitutional Recognition of Local Government – from ALGA wesbite

See the ALGA website for what the ALGA President Geoff Lake has to say and some interesting figures on present support for Constitutional recognition.

From ALGA website:

The Local Government Constitutional Summit – A Special National General Assembly was held from 8 – 11 December 2008 in Melbourne.

Resolution

Delegates of this Local Government Constitutional Summit resolve that:

to ensure the quality of planning and delivery of services and infrastructure provided to all Australians, and the ongoing sustainability of local government, any constitutional amendment put to the people in a referendum by the Australian Parliament (which could include the insertion of a preamble, an amendment to the current provisions or the insertion of a new Chapter) should reflect the following principles:

The Australian people should be represented in the community by democratically elected and accountable local government representatives;

- The power of the Commonwealth to provide direct funding to local government should be explicitly recognised; and

- If a new preamble is proposed, it should ensure that local government is recognised as one of the components making up the modern Australian Federation.

http://www.alga.asn.au/constitutionalrecognition/declaration.php

“Some of the other key findings from the research include:

• A significant education gap exists in people’s understanding of the process of constitutional reform and this is particularly pronounced among young people;
• Local government is generally viewed more positively than state governments but less positively than the Federal Government;
• People living in rural and regional areas are more likely to support local government and constitutional change; and
• While people are generally supportive of constitutional change, they would prefer to wait until after the current economic downturn is over before such a change is proposed.

Next Steps

The consultation program with political stakeholders at the Federal and state levels will continue over the next few months. This process will then be followed by an official campaign launch in mid 2010. The establishment of a dedicated website to inform stakeholders and the public on the progress of the campaign will be considered by the ALGA Board in early 2010. We are also currently preparing fact sheets which will be sent to you early next year to provide further background for your consideration.

We aim to provide you with ongoing updates over the course of 2010 to let you know what is happening and to let you know how you and your council can get involved.” (accessed 10 Sept 2010)

http://www.alga.asn.au/constitutionalrecognition/

“Big step forward for local government and constitutional change” ALGA

media release – Australian Local Government Association.

01 September 2010

The president of the Australian Local Government Association, Cr Geoff Lake, welcomed this morning’s agreement signed by Labor and the Greens which commits to a referendum being held in this parliamentary term to include local government in the Australian Constitution.

The formal agreement signed today by Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Adam Bandt includes the following commitment:

Hold referenda during the 43rd Parliament or at the next election on Indigenous constitutional recognition and recognition of local government in the Constitution.

“This is absolutely fantastic news for councils, local communities and for improved cooperation between the three levels of government,” Cr Lake said. “We have been working for the last two years to secure this commitment and we applaud Bob Brown and Julia Gillard for today’s announcement.

“Should the Opposition ultimately form government, we hope it will match this commitment too and continue the bipartisan spirit we have received so far to this point. The Shadow Attorney-General has previously made clear this is also a priority for the Opposition so we are confident that it will also pursue this course should it form the next government.

“The inclusion of local government in the Constitution is all about stable government. It is about removing the current uncertainty stemming from last year’s High Court decision in Pape which has cast serious doubt on the power of the Commonwealth to continue to provide funds directly to local government.

“This recognition is the sort of sober and practical change to the Constitution that makes sense and which is likely to be supported by Australians who are otherwise reluctant to tamper with a Constitution that has stood the test of time.

“Ratepayers should be protected from the threat of having to bail out their local council should a constitutional challenge of local funding prove successful and affect future funding. They could also face having to pay back all of the money previously received directly.”

ALP Greens agreement – full text url

The Australian Greens & The Australian Labor Party (‘The Parties’) – Agreement Between:

The Hon Julia Gillard MP Prime Minister, MP Lalor, Leader of the Australian Labor Party
The Hon Wayne Swan MP
Deputy Prime Minister, MP Lilley, Deputy Leader of the Australian
Labor Party

And

Senator Bob Brown
Senator Christine Milne
Senator for Tasmania, Leader of the Australian Greens
Senator for Tasmania, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens
Adam Bandt MP ‐elect MP Melbourne, Australian Greens representative in the House

3. Goals

f) Hold referenda during the 43rd Parliament or at the next election on Indigenous constitutional recognition and recognition of local government in the Constitution.

full text of agreement

http://greens.org.au/sites/greens.org.au/files/Final%20Agreement%20_ALP_GRNS.pdf

Greens – ALP agreement includes referendum on recogition of local government.

While waiting for a Greens media release on this crucial matter, here is a comment from the Northern Star (Northern Rivers area):

“Greens deal offers councils hope

Alex Easton and AAP | 2nd September 2010

A DEAL between Labor and The Greens at the Federal level could signal a new era for local councils, Ballina Greens councillor, Jeff Johnson, said.

A DEAL between Labor and The Greens at the Federal level could signal a new era for local councils, Ballina Greens councillor and former Page candidate, Jeff Johnson, said.

Newly-elected Greens Melbourne MP Adam Bandt yesterday formally sided with Labor in the ongoing battle to see who will form the new Government

” Cr Johnson said one of the most critical concessions, from a Northern Rivers perspective, was an agreement to ‘move towards’ referendum to give constitutional recognition to local councils.

Under existing rules, councils exist at the whim of state governments. That demonstrates itself most visibly in the ability of state governments to force separate councils to amalgamate. But for councils the bigger issue has been ‘cost shifting’ – the practice of passing responsibilities to councils without ensuring they have the funds to cover those responsibilities.

Northern Rivers councils have been pushing to have local government enshrined in the Constitution as a way of escaping the control of state governments.

More importantly, it would pave the way for councils to get their own slice of GST revenue, which would provide secure funding without the need to increase rates or continuously apply for grants to help pay for projects.

“It would mean greater funding for the services councils provide,” Cr Johnson said.

“It’s widely recognised that it (local government) is the most efficient form of service delivery, and we currently get only 3 per cent of funding. ” “

full story
http://www.northernstar.com.au/story/2010/09/02/greens-election-lismore-ballina-council/