Media Release – 20 June, 2013

by Peter Consandine

The Republicans advocate a ‘NO’ vote in the Referendum to recognise Local Government in the Federal Constitution

Simply put, there is absolutely no need for this referendum. The Republicans see this Labor govt initiative as a rather rushed move. This referendum has been put up twice before by Labor govts – in 1974 and 1988 – and soundly defeated on both occasions. Undoubtedly, if it were to carry at a third attempt, sensible and proper, even urgent and important reform of the Australian federal structures would be impeded in the short-medium term.

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The Republicans note that the following respected constitutional lawyers/constitutional law academics namely: Anne Twomey, Greg Craven, Cheryl Saunders, Michael Sexton and Gabrielle Appleby – the latter three who have addressed forums organised by The RPA going back many years – are ALL of the view that Labor’s 2013 initiative is a dangerous move. 

The Republicans also note that the four major Australian States’ governments are implacably opposed to the idea of there being the possibility/probability of more Federal intrusion into what is their traditional legal, constitutional domain.

Indubitably, what the Labor govt is attempting to do is to centralise more power in Canberra and a corollary of that would be, deleteriously, threefold:

Future Federal governments would be able to control Local Government(s) by introducing another layer of bureaucracy to the State layer(s) which obtain [All six State Constitutions were amended between 1979 and 1989 to acknowledge the role of Local Government and to be responsible for their administration]. Indeed, re-iterating: Local Government has always – since Colonial times – been the respective States’ jurisdiction;

Future Federal governments would be able to apportion/withhold funds as it saw fit;

Future Federal governments could more easily/readily dismiss Local Government Authorities (LGAs) at whim/at the stroke of a pen/by dispensing with due process.  

ALL of the abovementioned likelihoods would be conducive to making co-operative federalism unwieldy and would, in turn, make reform, cohesiveness and streamlining of the Coalition of Australian Governments (C.O.A.G.) organisation near-impossible.

The Republicans are, however, more concerned with the unprecedented procedure that the Labor govt is employing with this blatant power-grab. From every perspective it is an anti-democratic exercise…

$10 million of Australian taxpayers’ money is being granted to the ‘YES’ proponents whilst only $500,000 (one twentieth!) is being allocated to the ‘NO’ contenders. And the Australian Local Government Association (AGLA) is chipping in with a further $10 million of municipal ratepayers’ money to the ‘YES’ proponents’ coffers on the highly-specious premise that more Federal money will directly come to the LGAs – and more often.

It doesn’t end there. As it happens, this Labor govt is perversely re-ordering the YES/NO case booklets which get sent out to ALL letterboxes by placing the YES case in the front and the NO case at the rear – NOT side-by-side, page-by-page, case-by-case , as in ALL previous referenda campaigns.

The Republicans believe the referendum will fail to carry, anyway. 

The Republicans will not campaign against the referendum and the ‘NO’ case argued here will merely be placed on The Party’s website for ready reference both now and in the future.  

This Labor govt has been in possession of the report of the inquiry into the matter of constitutional recognition of Local Government in the Federal Constitution – after receiving some 694 submissions from mostly local government bodies – since December, 2011. This Labor govt has been “sitting on its hands” until recently when it cynically “revived” the initiative as a distracting, manipulative attempt to pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of a rightly sceptical public with yet another “quick-fix”. It is rotten policy and shocking politics, undeniably.

Look, Australia is notoriously over-governed. It is manifestly over-bureaucratised, therefore, with wickedly wasteful duplication of operations/services/laws all-too-evident. Not to mention the under-utilisation of plant and infrastructural machinery etc. And, into the bargain, under-planning is writ large and very plain to observe/study, Australia-wide.

At national conferences of ALGA and major business lobbys (BCA et al) of yesteryear, the matter of government system reform was mainly confined to the need to reduce the number of tiers of governance from three to two – essentially, to abolish State governments and by amalgamation and/or merging of ALL sub-Federal governance into one whole and from there establish, on a decentralised format, a 2-tier system of Regional governments (say 50) to work in tandem with the Federal government to provide modern, accountable, efficient and co-operative governance for ALL Australians.

If Federated Australia were starting again, this is how we’d go about it. 

The Republicans say loudly and dedicatedly: Let’s START AGAIN!

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