By Julian Bajkowski
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has accused the Gillard government of attempting to let a proposed referendum on Constitutional recognition of local government deliberately die of neglect – despite the plebiscite having ongoing federal Coalition support.
In a broadside aimed directly at Local Government minister Simon Crean, Senator Joyce claimed that the government was “not really fair dinkum” about getting a referendum on local government up to coincide with the next election.
“[Simon Crean] is letting it wither on the vine, basically that’s the plan of attack . . . and then he’ll blame circumstances for it,” Senator Joyce told Government News.
Senator Joyce’s strong backing for the referendum follows Coalition members of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government issuing a dissenting report that “reserved” their position on the poll rather than giving it their backing.
The decision to issue a dissenting report rather than give outright support has clouded what was previously strong Coalition support for a referendum.
However Senator Joyce said that the dissenting report was “based on the fact that they [the government] are not giving it enough time.”
“What I am saying to [Simon Crean] is if you are fair dinkum about it, then get out and make it happen rather than just say we are just going to have a referendum,” Senator Joyce said.
“Not giving [the referendum preparations] enough time and not being diligent enough doesn’t meant that it’s a bad idea. Crean has not really put his shoulder to the wheel on this one, has he?”
Senator Joyce warned that a “half-baked” attempt at going to a referendum would “fail miserably.”
“If you are going to do it, do it properly or don’t do it at all,” he said.
The Australian Local Government Association, which has been the key proponent for a referendum, used a hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government in mid-January to warn that there is now not enough time to successfully convince voters to vote ‘yes’ – a position the committee ultimately rejected.
Senator Joyce said that ALGA’s position was “not a good sign” and that immediate action was required to make a referendum a reality.
“There is hope, but it’s like everything you would literally have to start tomorrow,” Senator Joyce said.
“Referendums are so hard to get up that if people are not absolutely and utterly and thoroughly focused on it, it just won’t work… The Australian people are inherently sceptical, when in doubt they knock out every time.
“If you really believe in it, you put the maximum amount of effort into it,” Senator Joyce said.
The shadow local government minister highlighted the Coalition’s previous use of direct local government funding mechanisms to get major projects up and running quickly, and said the present legal impasse – in which direct funding is on legally tenuous ground – had to be fixed.
“The Coalition policy has remained in support of financial recognition of local government to deal with the issues pertaining to the concerns brought up by the Pape case and the Williams case, we have got to try and resolve that,” Senator Joyce said.
“Of course we believe in sending money to local governments, in fact we brought in policies such as Roads to Recovery. If you said ‘what is going happen if the Labor Party fails’ … I want them to try to succeed first.”
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