By Julian Bajkowski
The federal Opposition has pulled-up short of giving its full backing to a referendum on the financial recognition of local government at the next election, a move that raises questions over whether the Coalition will continue to back the proposal ahead of the forthcoming federal poll.
In a dissenting preliminary report issued by Coalition members of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, Opposition members say they have reserved their final recommendation until a final report is issued in March.
The Coalition has also slammed what it calls “the excessively rushed process” the majority of members had agreed to put in place in an effort to make a referendum at the next election a reality.
The dissenting report was issued by House of Representatives Members Mark Coulton, Steve Irons, Jane Prentice and Senators David Bushby and David Fawcett.
Also coming under fire was what the Coalition described as the “the perverse outcomes of holding a hearing and the delivery of a preliminary report prior to the closing date for submissions!”
Notably, the dissenting report backed what it described as the “grave” concerns of the Australian Local Government Association that there is now insufficient time to educate and persuade the electorate of the merits for a constitutional amendment.
It claimed “support for the position that inaction by the Government has introduced risks” to the referendum process from constitutional experts who provided evidence to the committee, including Professor AJ Brown from Griffith University's Centre for Governance and Public Policy who is quoted as saying an public education campaign needed more than six months.
However in a separate statement from Professor Brown today, the respected academic said he “welcomed the publication of a [the main preliminary report] proposing a 2013 referendum on direct Federal government funding for local government services.”
“This is a historic opportunity to improve significantly the mechanics and operation of the federal system,” Professor Brown said.
“The publication represents an important step towards constitutional recognition of local government.”
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