By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has called for money to be urgently freed up under the Referendums (Machinery Provisions) Act to educate the Australian public about Constitutional matters in the run-up to a vote on financial recognition in the federal election in September 2013 – if it happens.
The peak body now wants political parties and independent Members of Parliament to support the removal of constraints on referendum funding after ALGA gave its support for a referendum on financial recognition of Local Government to be held at the next federal election.
The move to free up money for civics education, which is essentially telling the general public why there is a case for Constitutional change, comes as amount of time to convince people begins to dwindle in the face of continued internal brawling in the labor Gillard government.
Local governments now have to contend with the sacking of federal Minister for Local Government and Regional Australia and Regional Simon Crean following Labor’s latest episode of self-mutilation that culminated in damaging leadership spill that produced no challengers.
Shadow local government minister Barnaby Joyce immediately hit out at consequences of Mr Crean’s removal which have produced policy until a new Local Government Minister is decided.
“The problem we have now is that I am Shadow to a person that does not exist,” Senator Joyce said. “
“There is no Minister for Regional Development. The person who said he was going to drive through Constitutional recognition of local government is now gone. The Labor party has sat on the Spigelman review,which recommended a referendum on constitutional recognition of local government at the 2013 election, for over a year.
“Now less than six months from an election we have no response, no legislation and no Minister,” Senator Joyce said.
Those circumstances do not help ALGA.
The national local government peak body and some of its state associations managed to swallow their reservations on referendum timing to display a united commitment to changing Section 96 of the Constitution last month and have pledged to provide “millions of dollars” to campaign for a referendum, claiming that it is “vital that public funding is made available”.
Federal Special Minister of State Gary Gray introduced the Referendums (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2013 this week which includes the changes to remove public funding constraints on referendums that ALGA is urging MPs to support.
ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis has argued that there is limited understanding of Constitutional matters in the Australian community, resulting in a call public information funding.
This call was made in ALGA’s submissions to the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government and the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government.
Ms Lewis said local government has consistently argued for the need to public funding for a public education campaign, as well as funding for “well-developed” Yes and No cases for referendums.
“Funding arrangements for the last referendum held in this country on the Republic in 1999 provided $19.5 million of public funding, with $7.5 million going to either side of the republic debate and $4.5 million spent on a neutral information campaign over a period of five months. The same funding arrangements should apply to all referendums,” Ms Lewis said.
She said ALGA has also proposed that funding be available for the campaigns for the Yes and No cases to ensure that arguments in favour and against the referendum questions are “comprehensively” before the people to ensure and informed debate and vote.
According to ALGA, the Joint Select Committee has also supported public funding for referendum campaigns.
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