AUSTRALIAN Local Government Association president Genia McCaffery has requested an urgent response from the Prime Minister to protect local government funding.

The Federal Government planned to rush legislation changes into Parliament late yesterday in an attempt to validate federal funding models.

The High Court ruled last week that the chaplaincy program funding model exceeded the government’s power, placing in jeopardy hundreds of other government-funded programs as well.

The government wants the changes passed before Parliament’s winter break starts next week.

Ms McCaffery told the Mail-Times that local government funding which came direct from the Federal Government was vulnerable, despite legislation.

“We’re doubly caught by last week’s High Court ruling,” she said.

“The court ruled that the Federal Government had no power to provide direct funding in areas and to organisations outside its constitutional responsibility.

“Local government is not recognised in the Constitution and we have been told that legislation won’t fix this.

“There is already legislation for the Roads to Recovery program.”

Ms McCaffery said she wrote to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday, requesting the government urgently take the advice of an expert panel, which recommended that local government be recognised in the Constitution.

Minister for Local Government Simon Crean had already promised the government would decide before October if it would take the issue to a referendum at the next election.

But Ms Caffery said a referendum needed to happen sooner.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur, an Australian Local Government Association board member, said the ALGA would seek advice from Professor George Williams, a constitutional expert, to clarify a direction for funding to councils.

“If programs are backed with legislation, it is fine to fund them, but there needs to be an ongoing definition of what can be funded, because it’s all up in the air at the moment,” he said.

“Local government needs to be recognised in the Constitution and this might be the trigger point to help gain some momentum.”

Mr McArthur said until ALGA and the government were sure of their advice and took action, councils would remain in a vacuum of uncertainty.

But Horsham Rural City Council chief executive Peter Brown said council had no immediate concerns.

He said the High Court decision had the potential to affect programs including Roads to Recovery, but said most funding came through the State Government.

“The Federal Government and the Opposition have taken a bipartisan approach to this,” Mr Brown said.

“They will find a way around it.”

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