Truss rolls refunds for councils’ referendum spend

By Paul Hemsley

Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss given an important concession to councils and ratepayers by acknowledging that the Commonwealth will now pick up the tab for costs related the junked referendum on Constitutional recognition of local government.

A spokesman for the for Department Infrastructure and Regional Development (which oversees the now dropped portfolio title of Local Government) has confirmed to Government News that Canberra will take the financial hit after a change of election date and Prime Minister forced the extra ballot to be dropped because of the structure of enabling legislation.

Local governments have estimated they spent $3.5 million from a $10 million allocation from the Gillard government on a public awareness campaign for a “yes” vote in the referendum, which had initially been scheduled for the 14th September, 2013.

The cancellation of the referendum was a blow to councils across Australia which had fought more than a decade of battles to again the question of formal recognition of local government to the public. The problem for councils, however, was that they had already started spending money in the tight run-up to the now cancelled vote.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) subsequently argued for the federal government to reimburse the campaign money that had already been spent on the grounds that that it would be “inequitable” for councils to wear the costs of the associated campaign.

ALGA said it found Mr Truss’ assurance “comforting” and that the federal government is looking “as quickly as it can” for a way to compensate councils for their expenses.

In a meeting between ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss, he said that ALGA had a “reasonable argument for reimbursement”.

He said he was “sympathetic” to allowing local government to use $3.5 million of the $10 million in Commonwealth funding.

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