Bendigo mayor demands referendum clarity from Premier

By Paul Hemsley

The mayor of Greater Bendigo Council has put the hard word on Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews to come clean on their positions on Constitutional recognition of local government amid sniping from the state government over the looming referendum on the issue on 14th September, 2013.

The demand for clarification on the state leaders’ positions on Constitutional recognition from Mayor Lisa Ruffell comes as dozens of councils gear-up for a public showdown over why some premiers may be opposed to recognising local government in the federal Constitution.

The Victorian government has previously expressed its hostility towards Constitutional recognition of local government because claimed suspicions that the change would allow the federal government to bypass state government to fund council projects.

The federal government already directly funds many local government initiatives.

The attitude of resistant states has attracted a slew of criticism from local government associations across the country that have been campaigning hard for more than a decade for another referendum to take place.

In a letter to the Victorian Premier and Opposition Leader, Ms Ruffell stressed that the changes to the Constitution have been recommended by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government and the Federal Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government.

She raised the issue of the High Court case of 2009 (Pape v Commissioner of Taxation) putting funding arrangements “under a cloud” because if federal grants that were given to councils are proven to be illegal, then important future projects in Greater Bendigo could be put at risk.

“In a practical sense, such recognition will overcome any legal doubts about the Commonwealth’s ability to directly fund local government,” Ms Ruffell said.

“Given this is not a referendum about the status of local government, which is clearly the responsibility of State Parliaments and is intended to remain so, and in the wake of two High Court challenges that cast doubt about the legitimacy of the Commonwealth directly providing financial assistance to councils, the importance of this referendum cannot be understated in terms of guaranteeing certainty and continuity in the provision of community services and essential infrastructure,” Ms Ruffell wrote to the state parliament leaders.

The referendum will ask Australians whether or not local government should be recognised through an addition to Section 96 of the Constitution that previously only recognised states and would then read: “Financial assistance to states and local government bodies. During a period of ten years and after the establishment of the commonwealth and thereafter until the parliament otherwise provides, the parliament may grant financial assistance to any state, or to any local government body formed by a law of a state.”

Tensions over the referendum flared when Victorian Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell’s said Constitutional recognition could potentially result in an erosion of state government power. Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) president Bill McArthur then accused Ms Powell of scaremongering because of her comment.

A similar split occurred a day later in New South Wales when the joint-presidents of Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW) accused the NSW Minister for Local Government Don Page of “scaremongering” when he claimed that financial recognition of local governments could lead to pork barrelling.

A Nielsen poll published in late May 2013 by the Australian Financial Review fund that there was 60 per cent overall support for a change to financially recognise local government.

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0 thoughts on “Bendigo mayor demands referendum clarity from Premier

  1. All councils need to vigorously publish this message and saturate their local media. It shows-up the State Governments as politiking with local community funding. The community will support this and state parties who oppose it will be exposed as self absorbed and not concerned with community needs.

    Use the media, get the message out and get it out early. most people don’t even know about this yet.

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