Local government referendum could be a flop

By | | comments |

The local government referendum has all but disappeared from view since Kevin Rudd became prime minister again; Steve Irons talks about the change to government we should all support and why.

Referendums are notoriously hard to pass in Australia. As Malcolm Turnbull of the 1999 "Yes" campaign is aware. (Image courtesy abc.net.au)


WHERE HAS THE local government referendum gone?

It was promoted as an important change to the Constitution of Australia, one that the government of the day could not live without.

It was passed parliament with strong bipartisan support for a referendum in conjunction with a 14 September.

Since then, we have seen a useful a few Frequently Asked Questions answered by the ever diligent UNSW Centre of Public Law, some useful articles by Michelle Grattan at The Conversation and very little else.

We know from history that you can’t win a referendum in this country in this manner.

It seems that all sides have written it off already.

I only hope the bureaucrats in Canberra haven’t committed the $10 million yet. It could be seen as an example of the "waste of taxpayers’ money" by Cabinet whose mind is on other matters.

I can’t be too critical. I have been playing a similar game myself. I've been keeping a low profile myself; despite the fact the outcome of the referendum is of prime importance to me. I recently documented – at BloggerMe – the interesting moment when the bill to authorise conducting the referendum passed the House of Representatives and the Senate. I kept track of the newspaper articles from that time.

I haven’t made much comment. I hoped it would all go away.

I am one of the few in Australia who are against the referendum while at the same time advocating for an the increase in the power of local government. I also support the abolition of the states.

Most who are against the referendum are traditional supporters of increased states' rights over the Commonwealth. Not really the sort of people I want to be seen to be in bed with.

There was always an issue with Tony Abbott supporting the referendum. He was at a point in the electoral cycle where the last thing he wanted to do was support something promoted by the Gillard Government. He had to weigh some real concerns from key people in his own coalition, and with good reason. He knew it was an important change required for the proper functioning of the relationship between Commonwealth and local governments.




Only a few months ago the Gillard Government was pushing the local government referendum hard. (Image courtesy Facebook)


This, without giving the states unnecessary power to intervene, stuff up, scheme or seek obtuse advantage from supporting federal funding. Highly likely, given the states' track record to inflict this on both local government and the Commonwealth to enhance their own petty internal machinations.

Abbott reluctantly supported the bill for the referendum.

He controlled the passage of the bill through the House. Only two rogue Coalition MPs broke ranks to oppose the bill. A significant number of his traditionally "states' rights" MPs fell into line.

The Senate was less controlled with a number of Abbott's key "states' rights" Senators making some serious remarks and voting against the bill. As mentioned previously, the bill was passed with majority support in both chambers of parliament.

Since then, Abbott has backtracked. He now clearly wishes he hadn’t been so easily persuaded. His recent comment that voters should "feel free to vote no" has probably killed the referendum for good.  He however needs to be careful. Supporting the government in the parliament and then backtracking in the electorate is a seemingly foolish thing to do. It could have political consequences for the Coalition.

That would be the last thing Abbott needs with his position in the opinion polls slumping since Kevin Rudd took over as prime minister. He is now one of the lowest polling contenders in the history of the Federation.

Labor came up with the constitutional change without considering the history of related issues, such as state abolition. The Gillard Government viewed it purely from alegal point of view.  A change that required a small tweak of the rules. Constitutional change rarely turns out to be that. Changes of this manner usually have serious & lasting impact on our lives long into the future.

Labor has always had a problem internally with the concept of abolishing the states. They know the reason for the continuation of the old-style Federation has long disappeared. Yet, they can't quite bring themselves to commence such a major constitutional change. This could be because their power bases, both within the party and the Australian Worker's Union (AWU), have always had state supremacy written into their history.

There have been a significant number of politicians, throughout the life of the Federation, that have spoken about the need to abolish the states.

Do the names Kennett, Windsor, Tanner, Everingham, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Costello, Fitzgibbon, Cherry, Farmer, Whitlam, Menzies, Chifley, Costa, Joyce and Beattie ring a bell?

There has been support for this idea from well known intellectuals around the country. People such as Murray, Woldring, Williams, Brown, Hudson, Consandine, Hall, Drummond, Putland, Patience and McIntyre. They have all promoted new systems to allow proper governance following the removal of the states. Many of them are still involved in a major project to reform the constitution.




Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is a strong advocate for abolishing the states. He publicly restated his position recently.


I agree with these eminent Australians. My method of achieving such 'regionalism' is to increase the number of states to coincide with political and physical realities of modern Australia. This would finally give existing local governments their proper place in the governance of Australia: as states in their own right. My re-drawn map of Australia is based on the FOWTOR model.

At present, it looks like the referendum will be abandoned. If it is not abandoned by Rudd, it will be lost.

It is still early days. Labor could bring it to the forefront and the Coalition could join Labor once more to promote constitutional change "for the good of local government" and the nation.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) could take their $9.5 million and make a good go of it.

If  Labor set the date for the federal election for before the date set aside for the referendum it would abandoning it altogether.

All this is speculation, and at present we can't say what will transpire. My money is on no recognition for local government any time soon.

If that happens, the new parliament will have a huge problem to solve.

The last thing we need is for the states to continue being able to step in and play a major role in distributing federal money at the local government level.

The states have all outlived their used by dates.

You can read more from Steve Irons about constitutional reform on bloggerme.com.au or by following him on Twitter @steveirons.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License




Recent articles by Steve Irons
Anzac Day 2015: The end of the RSL 'century'?

What is the future of the RSL? Half the current members are WWII veterans and the ...  
Local government referendum could be a flop

The local government referendum has all but disappeared from view since Kevin Rudd ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate