‘No’ camp accuses Albanese of abuse of process over referendum funding

By Julian Bajkowski

Opponents of Constitutional recognition for local government have accused the federal minister leading the multi-party push for a ‘yes’ vote of trying to buy the referendum result by giving $31.6 million to supporters and just $500,000 to opponents of direct funding for councils.

Conservative dominated group ‘No Power Grab’ claims that the latest round of referendum funding for the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps amounts to a “corruption of Australian democracy” because the pro-change camp is being given “65 times” the amount of funding as those opposing change.

“The only reason the Federal government can give this money is because they changed the Referendum Machinery Act … to suspend limitations on the Federal government spending money on political referendum campaigns,” Vote No spokesman Tim Wilson said.

“This is a corruption of our democracy to buy a change in the Constitution with taxpayer’s funds that limits the power of Canberra politicians and bureaucrats”, Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said that local communities “will be worse off” if the Constitution was amended. A core argument of the ‘No’ camp is that direct funding for councils will encourage unfettered pork barrelling of local government projects because existing powers of states governments over council funding will be bypassed.

A number of Coalition held state governments including West Australia, Victoria and New South Wales have grizzled about the potential dilution of their powers, but Campbell Newman led Queensland has remained an active proponent of Constitutional recognition.

However the momentum of the ‘Vote No’ camp is picking up speed as it harnesses widespread suspicion in the community of a change that both the government and councils have struggled to make an issue in the media because of the strong focus on Labor’s internal factional warfare.

Yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard directly appealed to councils to engage in a grass roots campaign to sway electors to vote ‘Yes’ saying that agreement between governments was not enough.

Local government minister Anthony Albanese went one step further and accused the ‘No’ camp of stirring up “conspiracy theorists”.

The government says that the distribution of funding is based on how the votes to have a referendum fell in the Parliament.

“The proposed amendment has strong bipartisan support at the federal level. Federal Members of Parliament voted 134 to 2 in favour of changing the Constitution to recognise local government,” Mr Albanese said in a statement.

“To promote public discussion of the proposed amendment, the Government will provide funding to proponents of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases to assist them to take their cases to the community.

“The amount of funding to be provided for each case will reflect the proportion of Members that voted for and against the Constitution Alteration (Local Government) Amendment Bill 2013. Over 98 per cent voted for and less than 2 per cent voted against this bill,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese also suggested that the ‘No’ camp is getting more money that it would ordinarily be entitled to.

“While the ‘No’ case would attract less on a strictly proportional basis, the Government will provide up to $500,000 to proponents of the ‘No’ case. The two Members who voted against the bill will be asked to determine the distribution of this funding,” he said.

Read former Howard government Finance Minister Nick Minchin’s opinion piece on the Vote No case.

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