The risk of Canberra in every town hall: Parliamentary debates continued

My previous post summarised key arguments by federal parliamentarians this week for financial recognition of local governments in the Australian Constitution, which in my assessment were devoid of persuasive content and littered with inaccuracies.

By contrast, three House of Representatives members deserve praise for standing up for Australian constitutional preservation and the integrity of our federal system. Their speeches represented a highlight of the parliamentary debate on local government recognition, and deserve to be read widely.

Federal member for Mitchell, Alex Hawke, raised the importance of constitutional checks and balances to ensure that limited political power is directed to purposes congruent to public benefit. An important part of the total package of checks and balances in existence is the constitutional balance between different levels of government which, according to Hawke, would be threatened by local government recognition:

Billions of dollars are being wasted in debt and deficit. And yet the priority of this government is to expand the ability of the commonwealth to spend money on local roads and local issues – is that seriously the priority of this national government? … The disasters this government has mismanaged would indicate we need more limitations, not more openings for the commonwealth to spend more money.

Addressing the notion put forward by the ‘yes’ case that local government constitutional recognition would not amount to federal interference in local affairs, Hawke stated ‘it is a ludicrous argument … to suggest that money does not mean power. Governments function through expenditure.’

Dr Dennis Jenson, federal member for Tangney, critiqued the idea that the proposed insertion of 17 words into Section 96 of the Constitution reflects a ‘small’ and ‘modest’ change: ‘Words matter. … The changes being proposed to the Constitution are significant in both practice and principle. Whether it is the Gillard government’s intention of not, this referendum will permit further federal government expansion into affairs where it does not have original formal jurisdiction.’

Finally, the federal member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, delivered a speech outlining the risks of federal determination of the terms and conditions of its funding to councils and shires:

As the old saying goes, ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’ So if a local council receives federal money to re-turf a local sporting field, a federal government could make it a term and condition of that grant that that local council had to provide greater power to the union movement – or any other term and condition that the federal government might like to come up with.

Kelly also pointed out that constitutional ratification of direct federal funding to councils would open up new opportunities for Canberra politicians and bureaucrats to pork-barrel local councils, with funding determined on the basis of political agendas and priorities not determined at the local level.

These speeches make for compulsory reading for any Australian who seeks an understanding of the significant problems entailed in the government’s hasty and ill-considered proposal to enable Canberra to infiltrate every town hall.


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