By Julian Bajkowski
The Australian Local Government Association has officially overcome its public anxiety attack over the timing of a referendum on Constitutional recognition of local government at the next federal election.
In a Friday afternoon bulletin to members, the peak group said that its board had had now “formally resolved to support and campaign for a 2013 referendum in the expectation that a referendum will soon be proposed by the Federal Government.”
The now unequivocal backing of ALGA for the referendum comes amid a growing expectation in Canberra that the Prime Minister will soon announce the government’s intention to put a referendum to the people with the backing of the Coalition, Independents and the Greens.
“The decision was made following discussions at last week's strategic meeting and while the referendum is yet to be formally announced by the Australian Government, the Joint Select Committee established to investigate the likelihood of Australians voting 'yes' in a 2013 referendum is expected to release its final recommendations this month,” ALGA’s bulletin said.
Members of ALGA’s executive had previously expressed serious reservations to the federal Joint Standing Committee of Constitutional Recognition of Local Government that there was not enough time to mount a civics education and publicity campaign to successfully persuade electors to vote ‘yes’ for a Constitutional amendment.
The reservations of the peak local government group were immediately rounded on by angry members of the committee who demanded to know why there had been a sudden loss of confidence at the last minute after decades of campaigning.
Committee member and Independent MP Tony Windsor accused ALGA’s executive of being “nervous nellies” and said that councils were “disgusted” with the executive’s position.
Committee chair Michelle Rowland warned ALGA that if the group held fears that political climate and electoral mood was too toxic to proceed to a referendum, things weren’t likely to improve.
Yet cross-party support for the referendum has managed to remain intact despite the committee fireworks and public trepidation making continued direct federal funding of local government schemes like Roads to Recovery one of the few, possibly the only issue that all sides of politics agree on.
“The ALGA Board has thrown its support behind ALGA playing the lead role in the 'yes' campaign to ensure an integrated, national campaign in the lead up to a possible September referendum,” ALGA’s bulletin said.
“Much has been done to prepare for a referendum announcement but ALGA has now ramped up its actions to ensure it is able to respond to any announcement to proceed with the referendum,” ALGA president Felicity-ann Lewis said.
“We are working with state local government associations to develop the coordination mechanisms which would be required for a referendum and ALGA is working on the structures necessary to support the campaign.
“Several elements of our campaign plan require the commitment of considerable financial expenditure and the allocation of resources from our state associations and of course must therefore await a final government decision. ALGA and its state associations have committed to provide millions of dollars to campaign for the referendum and it is vital that public funding is also made available,” Ms Lewis said.
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