Queensland Sunday Mail 05 May 2002

Local councils would run police forces, hospitals and schools under a radical federal government plan, slashing the power of the states.  

The Howard Government has moved to set up an inquiry into the possibility of adopting a United States style system of government where councils would take over essential services.  

The proposal will set the Government on a collision course with the nation’s state governments, all of which are Labor administrations.  

Federal Local Government Minister Wilson Tuckey said the plan would improve service delivery to communities.

Mr Tuckey said local councils were closer to the community and more accountable than ‘remote” state governments.

“I think it’s time Australia looked at this. I have a vision pretty close to the US model,” he said. “It would improve services to the community and give them someone to blame if things went wrong.’  

Mr Tuckey said the Federal Government was willing to bypass the states and directly fund local councils to carry out the services.  

The proposal drew opposite responses from men representing the two levels of government in Queens­land.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley, who oversees the biggest local council in the country, was all for the proposal.

“I am delighted that John Howard has finally listened to me,” he said. “For 11 years I have been calling for a review of the way we are governed. “We are over-governed. The three tiers of government do not work.”

But Cr Soorley said Mr Tuckey should “shut his mouth” and not seek to pol­iticise the argument. “The Federal and State Governments have both been ripping people off for years,” he said. “Let’s not start pointing the finger. Let’s sit down and have a sensible debate about the system of govern­ment in this country.”

Premier Peter Beattie was far from enthusiastic. “The cost would be horrendous,” he said. “It would just not work.” He said the proposal was a cost-shifting exercise. “Canberra would do nothing financially and without increased funds local government would go broke,” he said.  

The House of Representatives economics committee will run the inquiry under the chairmanship of Victorian MP David Hawker. The terms of reference are awaiting approval from Treasurer Peter Costello, who is understood to support the plan.  

Australian Local Government Association senior vice-president Lynn Mason said many councils would be capable of providing the services if they had funding.

A referendum probably would be needed to provide formal constitutional recognition of local government for the plan to go ahead.  

But Mr Tuckey said that even without a successful referendum, the Federal Government already had the power and money to hand over service delivery to local councils.  

If the states tried to obstruct the plan, councils could be given local police powers through the Australian Federal Police.

Mr Tuckey said councils could ask for a share of GST revenue to help fund the new services.  

Mr Tuckey said the proposals applied as much to city councils as regional ones.