By Julian Bajkowski
Key independent powerbroker Tony Windsor has vowed that the naming of a September 14th federal election date is no excuse to put off a referendum on Constitutional recognition of local government, saying the long lead-time provides a catalyst not an obstacle for the plebiscite to be held.
“I think it’s got a very, very good chance of getting up,” Mr Windsor told Government News. “Announcing a date this far out removes objections of time and structure.”
Mr Windsor’s comments substantially increase pressure on the executive of the Australian Local Government Association to back a referendum at the next election after the peak group argued there was not sufficient time to educate and convince the public of the case for change.
He said the push for a referendum at the next election had been a commitment from all sides of politics and suggested that the position of ALGA’s leadership may not be reflective of the wider view of councils based on discussions he had had.
“A lot of councils are disgusted with the way the executive of the ALGA has operated,” Mr Windsor said. “They [ALGA] were told to get on with it.”
Mr Windsor said that there was now disappointment with so-called “nervous Nellies” who were backing away from a plebiscite at the next election.
A key argument from Mr Windsor for the referendum to go ahead is that the hard work of achieving rare consensus and support across political lines is simply too valuable to be squandered.
The Member for New England even offered a rare compliment to his political nemesis, Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, for publicly reaffirming to Coalition’s commitment a referendum cause, especially after a dissenting preliminary report from Opposition members of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government reserved its position.
“That is to his credit,” Mr Windsor said. “Everything doesn’t have to be a division.”
Senator Joyce has previously told Government News that he wants a referendum held alongside an election because of the high cost of running a separate poll – which has been estimated by the Australian Electoral Commission to be around $121 million.
Support for the plebiscite within the government also appears to holding. The office of Local government minister Simon Crean has indicated that it anticipates the committee process will run its course ahead of the election, with a final report to be issued in March.
The main preliminary report of the committee recommended that a referendum should be held at the next election.
Mr Windsor said that the electorate was capable of understanding the need for a Constitutional amendment to ensure that direct funding of local government projects could proceed with legal certainty.
“If people see the High Court could negate Roads to Recovery and disaster recovery, they would support [a Constitutional amendment]. I reckon it should happen,” Mr Windsor said.
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