Flat White

Since when was same-sex marriage a local government concern?

1 August 2017

6:10 PM

1 August 2017

6:10 PM

Woollahra Council in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is the latest to join a growing chorus of local councils around Australia to pass a motion supporting same-sex marriage, demanding the Federal Government allow an immediate parliamentary vote to change the Marriage Act.

Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, suggested that there are now more than 50 local councils that have done the same.

I am sure the Turnbull government has gone into spiralling panic now that so many councils have demanded that they change their policy.

Last time I checked, local government does not have responsibility for making laws in areas like marriage. In fact, it doesn’t have a lot of power to make many laws at all.


The Constitution expressly, and exclusively, grants power over marriage to the Commonwealth legislature under Section 51(xxi).

Activism on issues like this by local councils, in areas that do not concern them, is not a new phenomenon.

Throughout the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties, many local councils passed motions strongly condemning the use of nuclear weapons, and the development of nuclear power – despite having no responsibility for making laws in areas like defence and energy.

This isn’t about whether you support same-sex marriage or not, or whether you support a plebiscite, a parliamentary vote or any other way of changing the Marriage Act. It’s about opposing activism by local councils in areas that don’t concern them.

Each level of government needs to stick to their core business. For local government, this includes bin collection, maintaining adequate public amenities and assessing development applications. Not marriage policy, not energy policy or any other activist pursuit.

Our constitution sets out a clear separation of powers between the different branches of government. There is also a clear delineation of power and responsibilities between the different levels of government at a federal, state and local level.

Local councils need to get back to their core business and take a leaf out of Liberal Councillor Andrew Petrie’s book, who abstained from voting on the Woollahra Council same-sex marriage motion arguing ‘it’s not our role to start dictating to the federal government on policy’.

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