Royal visit reopens referendum debate

By Angela Dorizas

Prince William’s visit to Australia has reopened the republican debate and put federal-state relations and local government reform back on the agenda.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland told the Australian Financial Review that there were four potential questions to be put to voters in a referendum if Labor won the election this year.

He said the four questions were the republic, formal recognition of Indigenous Australians, co-operative federalism and constitutional recognition of local government.

A referendum on local government reform has been backed by Federal Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese.

“I’m a supporter of constitutional recognition of local government,” Mr Albanese told Government News.

Mr Albanese said local government first needed to address “unease” within the community before putting the question to voters.

“I think we need to ensure that the model’s fully worked through with local government,” he said.

“What I want to do is work with local government to make sure that when it is put to a referendum it is clearly understood and it’s successful.

“We need to engage with local government in that grassroots campaigning to outline the benefits.”

There have been two failed attempts by previous Labor governments to include local government in the Constitution.

Mr Albanese warned that without a strong community base and bipartisan support, the question would again be rejected.

“At this stage we haven’t got a commitment of bipartisan support and I think for any referendum to be successful in Australia the history is that you need that bipartisan support as well,” he said.

A spokesman for shadow minister for local government Warren Truss said the Opposition supported formal recognition of local government in the Constitution, but was waiting to see the question to be put to voters.

“We’re very open to the idea of this being discussed nationally,” he told Government News.

He warned that the issue did not have the support of the states.

“It is not going to be an easy task to get it over the line.”

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has welcomed federal consideration of the four referendum questions, in particular, recognition of local government.

ALGA president Geoff Lake said councils were advocating for the inclusion of a clear statement in the Constitution to expressly empower the federal government to directly provide funds for local government.

Cr Lake said the change would not threaten or diminish state powers over councils.

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