The upcoming referendum asking Australians if they want local government recognised in the constitution has, like previous attempts, been met with confusion and the glazing of eyes.
Though the odds are stacked against it getting public support, it does offer an opportunity to examine the state and federal governments’ tenuous relationship and how they administer our taxes. According to Shipra Chordia, director of the Federalism Project at the University of NSW, around 80 per cent of the federal $2.7 billion budget to local government is channelled through the states. ‘The remaining 20 per cent is direct funding from the federal to the local level, and is used to finance popular programs, such as the Roads to Recovery program.’
Without a clear constitutional power to directly fund local government, we are told by proponents, a significant number of federal to council programs such as the Roads to Recovery program might be put in jeopardy by future High Court challenges.
But would recognising local government undermine the principles of federalism or our Constitution?
There is little doubt that such changes are a threat to the states’ powers and relevance. This is primarily because the feds could bypass states and presumably expand on funding directly.
And similarly, opponents say councils with more power could perhaps apply taxes instead of rates, while ‘spot’ fines could have more legal legitimacy and carry harsher penalties. Also it would be harder to challenge councils in the federal courts.
It’s been said all government tiers exist to prevent local dictatorships and corruption, and it’s widely recognised to be critical that no level of government has too much power.
Council’s purpose was originally intended to provide essential services and maintenance, and opponents say it should not extend beyond roads, rates and rubbish. Others say councils’ roles are, in practice, much more.
Past and present poor performances by NSW Labor and coalition parties make a good argument for change, as does this region’s lack of funding relative to other local government areas. Who wouldn’t want better local governance and a streamlined, less complicated bureaucracy? The referendum will be included with the September election, and the amendment’s wording has just become public at http://regional.gov.au. Also see http://localgovrecognition.gov.au.
Hans Lovejoy, editor
It’s heartening to hear that the NSW National Party has thrown its support behind a local hemp manufacturer.
Bangalow based Hemp Foods Australia is spruiking the funding by NSW Trade and Investment of six new employees for a minimum of three months, which director Paul Benhaim says is ‘invaluable
in improving financial stability and credibility to move ahead and employ many more for longer.’
According to Benhaim, there is strong interest from Asia and North America and, ‘we’re confident we will become market leaders in the southern hemisphere with our specialised products.’
Presently the company produces hulled hemp seeds, oil and protein. But unlike the tinctures that reportedly provide relief from epilepsy, his products contain no THC. Instead, his company specialises in food-grade stuffs which contain omega-3, omega-6, omega-9 and essential fatty acids.
The catch? Hemp foods are not allowed to be sold as food in Australia and New Zealand (except for hemp oil in NZ). Buy this stuff locally and it has to be applied externally; however the federal government is looking into it.
Anyway, local Nationals MP Don Page says hemp foods are ‘a prime example of the NSW government’s success in helping regional businesses move forward and boost employment.’
‘Jobs are always a priority in NSW, especially in the bush, and this government is working hard with bright initiatives to provide them.’
Similarly, NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner was quoted in Benhaim’s press release as saying the performance of hemp foods ‘would hopefully be a story repeated over and over in NSW as the government’s incentives and strategies became established.’
So will we see the Nationals take the ball on this and promote jobs and industries that will take on big pharma, plastics, paper, cotton and fossil fuels? One could say this is certainly a good start.
And it’s not often the Nationals can be commended; let’s forget for now that appalling $2m rail study designed to rob this region of public transport, planning reforms that favour developers, or proposed legislation to sack councils and shift power to the state.
Oh, and also Mr Stoner’s refusal to support a mini-hydro business in his own electorate, as reported in The Echo a few weeks ago.
While Mr Page says jobs are a priority in NSW, his leader Mr Stoner failed to offer the same assistance to that industry. It could have possibly saved a Dorrigo business that offered renewable energy.