Australia’s councils want a referendum on giving local government constitutional recognition.

A motion calling for the Federal Government to initiate a referendum “at the earliest opportunity” has been carried 201 votes to three at the National General Assembly of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) in Canberra this week.

“Local Government presently depends on the continued will of the various State legislatures to empower local government to exist and perform various functions,” the motion put forward by Toowoomba Regional Council states.

“It seems preferable that the Commonwealth entrench the right for councils to exist and perform certain roles.”

If it gets up, it would be the third referendum on giving local councils constitutional recognition, follwing previous failed bids under the Whitlam and Hawke Labor governments.

A similar motion for a referendum was passed at last year’s NGA, but only succeeded in securing a letter from the Federal Government saying it had no immediate plans to change the constitution.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack believes local government should be recognised in the constitution to enable direct funding.

“I think, I believe, I know that local government should be in the constitution,” he said at the ALGA assembly.

“There is probably no more important thing than the commonwealth be able to fund local government directly, so that we can avoid going through the bureaucracy and so that we can get the money direct to where it needs to go, and that’s right on the ground.”

But like all referenda, he said the wording is critical.

“I know we’ve had referenda on it before, but next time when it goes up – and it has to, it should, it must – we have to get the wording right. And we have to put it in at a time when the Australian voting public is in the mood that they’re going to carry it.”

Other motions passed at the ALGA NGA included calling on the federal government declare a climate emergency, appointing a minister to assist councils in their response the changing environment, establishing a national strategy for climate change adaptation and resilience, and a motion to indemnify councils that take climate change mitigation initiatives.