Local government

Local government is the foundation of democracy; if it fails, democracy will fail.

Robert W. Flack


There are 3 levels of government in Australia:

  • Federal government
  • State government
  • Local government

Local governments existed prior to "federation" which occurred on 1 January 1901. All local governments (or councils) fall under the jurisdiction of their respective state government. Despite the vital role that councils play in society, there is no mention of "local government" in the federal constitution.


Division of power

To understand the division of power between federal and state governments, we examine the web site of the Australian government:

Under a federal system, powers are divided between a central government and several regional governments. In Australia, power was divided between the then Commonwealth Government and the governments of the six colonies, which were renamed "states" by the Constitution.

It is clear that there was to be a clear division of power between federal and state governments. The constitution empowered the federal governemt to legislate on matters such as taxation, defence, foreign affairs, postal and telecommunication services. There was no intention for the federal government to legislate on local matters.


Federal recognition of local government

"Constitutional recognition" is jargon for the federal government taking control of local government.

The federal government initiated two referenda, one in 1974 and another in 1988, to amend the constitution to provide for "constitutional recognition of local government". On both occassions the public said "no".

A third referendum was proposed for 2013, which has since been abandoned. The University of New South Wales highlighted the proposed changes to section 96 of the Constitution. The proposal is given in red.

During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State, or to any local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

Once the federal government provides funding to local government on its own terms and conditions, it will have effective control of such local government. Remember - he who holds the purse, pulls the strings.


The ASP will never support the "constitutional recognition of local government" - since it will consolidate power and control of local government into federal hands.


ASP position on local government

Local governments have an important role to play in the exercise of democracy and in improving the quality of peoples lives. However, many councils have been granted too much power - which must be held in check.

The ASP would like to see the following initiatives at local government level:

  • Holding referenda on local issues.
  • Eliminating its role of revenue generation (e.g. fees, levies, and fines).
  • Operating as a "cost center" with performance-linked bonuses.
  • Strict term limits for councilors.
  • Reducing the size of council bureaucracies.
  • Privatising services where possible.

A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.

Thomas Jefferson
3rd President of the United States (1801–1809)