Local Government NSW president Keith Rhoades
Local Government NSW president Keith Rhoades Contributed

Successful referendum would provide funding for projects

A YES vote at the coming referendum on constitutional recognition of local government would be a weight lifted off the shoulders of councils around the country.

The presidents of both the Queensland and New South Wales local government bodies were in Canberra on Monday to talk the big issues facing councils around the country.

Both leaders of the state organisations attended the record gathering of more than 1000 council representatives at the Australian Local Government Association national general assembly.

Local Government NSW president Keith Rhoades said that as that state struggling between increasing cost-shifting by the state government and rate pegging, the certainty of funding everything from roads to hospitals was in doubt.

He said the doubt was further entrenched by High Court challenges to the validity of Commonwealth funding for councils and a successful referendum would secure the ability for direct funding for local projects.

Both Mr Rhoades and Local Government Association of Queensland president Margaret De Wit said councils around the nation would be meeting with residents to explain what the constitutional change meant.

Ms De Wit said in Queensland, the biggest issues for councils came down to funding, and a "yes" vote would help to ensure certainty as successive state governments continue to shift costs on to councils.

"We've got a long way to go in addressing the backlog caused by natural disasters - we've only got $80 million from the state and federal go vernments to address a backlog worth more than $1 billion," she said.

"We're also suffering from increasing cost-shifting, especially for country councils, where many Queensland councils have to run childcare centres and airports just to keep services running."

Mr Rhoades said Federal Governments of both political persuasions had been directly funding council projects for more than 15 years, describing the referendum as an effort to "fix the glitch".

"It's not a major change, and we appreciate governments of all levels are struggling at the moment, but we are determined to have a successful referendum to ensure funding certainty for the future," he said.

Cnr De Wit said she had spoken to people across Queensland about what the referendum meant, and had found no one who would not support it.

"When we explain is doesn't change the relationship with state governments, and that it will help maintain local roads and preserve buildings, everyone I've come across asks why it hasn't been done already," she said.

The referendum will be held on the same day as the Federal Election, September 14 this year.

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