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Bernardi calls for Coalition to oppose local government referendum

Liberal Senator Cory Bernadi has called on the federal Coalition to oppose the referendum to recognise local government in the constitution, which will be held with the September 14 election. Senator Bernadi…

Cory Bernadi is calling on Tony Abbott to oppose the local government referendum. AAP/Alan Porritt

Liberal Senator Cory Bernadi has called on the federal Coalition to oppose the referendum to recognise local government in the constitution, which will be held with the September 14 election.

Senator Bernadi, from South Australia and the party’s right, said the Coalition’s in-principle support for the referendum had never been discussed in the party room, and needed to be before any decision was made.

Trying to recognise local government in the constitution is “against Liberal philosophy,” he told The Conversation. He said it went against Liberal support for state rights and federalism generally.

Senator Bernardi’s remarks reflect the deep divisions within Coalition ranks over the referendum - which is likely to fail because of significant opposition to it. Several states are against.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott today qualified the opposition’s support for the referendum. He also said he would allow “at least two members of the Coalition” to cross the floor so they could prepare a “no” case against, to enable “a proper debate about any proposal that the government puts forward.”

He said the government still had not taken the opposition or the public into its confidence over the precise wording of the referendum question, which will be to give local government recognition to ensure the constitutionality of grants it gets from the Commonwealth.

“We have some reservations about it, because we think that the government hasn’t done the work necessary to get a yes vote,” Mr Abbott told a news conference, “It is rushing this through in the lead up to an election.”

“The other reservation that we’ve got is that, frankly, they shouldn’t be muddying the waters of this election, which ought to be a referendum on Julia Gillard and the carbon tax rather than a referendum on local government.

“That said, since Malcolm Turnbull’s time as opposition leader, we have supported an appropriate recognition of local government and we certainly do think that it’s important to continue the Commonwealth’s ability to be able to pay money under programs such as Roads to Recovery direct to local government.”

When pressed on whether he would campaign for a yes vote, Abbott ignored the question.

The opposition leader is now in a difficult position on the referendum with many in his party, especially in the Senate against it, but his local government spokesman Barnaby Joyce in favour and a long record of the opposition backing the idea.

Abbott said any constitutional change should be properly considered by the Australian people and it was right and proper that those who wanted to see the proposal exposed to full scrutiny should have the chance to make their case.

Senator Bernardi said he believed that deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop had confirmed there had not been a discussion in shadow cabinet or in the party room.

He said the Liberal Federal Council last year had voted by a two-thirds majority to oppose any constitutional recognition of local governments in the constitution. The Victorian division had overwhelmingly rejected it.

“You can’t make a determination on a matter like this without discussion in the party room,” Bernadi said.

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18 Comments sorted by

  1. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Unfortunately, Bernardi has allowed himself to be so tainted by right-wing, religious extremism that any statement of his cannot possibly be viewed through the prism of Menzies' style Liberalism.
    Surely he is in the wrong political party.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to James Hill

      I totally agree James, but then many members of the Liberal Party prefer polices that in earlier times would be described as fascist in nature.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Yes, that unremarked political extinction of true Liberals, accompanying a "Cold War" political climate change, as newcomers, lacking much cultural commitment to the Australian, world leading values of democracy, ( and, it must be said, in all real politik, honesty, harbouring some guilt for WWII crimes), see their path to power, on both sides of politics, as simply branch stacking their chosen "representatives" into power in "Safe" seats.
      Centuries of such rorting and scamming in their home countries…

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  2. Peter Sommerville

    Scientist & Technologist

    I am not a fan of Bernardi, but I will not support this referendum. It is simply a blatant attempt by the Commonwealth to bypass the states. Nothing more.

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    1. Michael Wahren

      Self employed

      In reply to Peter Sommerville

      And a good thing to. The sooner we eliminate State governments and instill greater power at community level the better.

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    2. Peter Sommerville

      Scientist & Technologist

      In reply to Michael Wahren

      Absolute nonsense. Local council administrative areas are relatively small so any direct funding by the Commonwealth will simply magnify the inefficiencies.

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  3. Jack Arnold

    Polymath

    The optimal outcome of this debate is that the Seventh State is formed between the Hunter and the present Queensland border, Queensland is divided into three new states around the formerly state owned east-west railway lines and the Kimberley-Pilbara splits from the present WA as the Eleventh State.

    Then, Federal funding could pass directly to the projects that require it because the need for 19th century local government would be overcome by the high speed NBN and well maintained highway network partly funded from savings made by abolishing local government and traditional states.

    Tasmania sadly is a basket case, Victoria is an industrial museum, NT has about 50% population on government benefits while SA has a few excellent wineries and a lot of unusable desert.

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  4. Mick Mac Andrew

    Rev Father

    Congratulations to Senator Bernardi for the courage he always shows with the difficult issues. A statesmanlike protest on the principles he has outlined should be acknowledged and followed. The referendum proposed, if it is allowed to proceed will be, I'm tipping be a looser no matter what. The electorate will pan the ALP for the wasteful $80 million dollars it takes and the States will obfuscate any attempt to bypass them with regards to local government. Look what is happening in NSW now, the rush is on to amalgamate more shires so the NSW Government will be able to confiscate more of the money the Federal Government gives for shire works to pay for the NSW Public Service employed to administer the grants.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Mick Mac Andrew

      Uhm Mick ... both Victoria and Queensland have reduced the number of local government areas to increase fiscal efficiency of an inordinately underwhelming government sector.

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    1. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      "significant doubt on the Australian Government's ability to fund local governments"

      Federal government funding of local government is a mistake. Local governments already have the ability to levy the most economically efficient and fairest tax of all - land tax in the form of rates. Switching this to federal taxes such as income tax carries a significant economic efficiency cost.

      Refer to blog.lvrg.org.au for issues on land tax and other taxes.

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Simple Gavin, form regional states under the Australian Constitution, or call them provinces if that name is confusing. This will remove the impediment of the traditional historical states by passing most functions to the Federal government while allowing the re-distribution of wealth from metro cities to urban regional centres.

      Pape was a smart lawyer.

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  5. Terry Mills

    lawyer retired

    There is a great deal of tidying up required under our Constitution but, inevitably, it can only be achieved with strong bipartisan support.

    Similarly this matter of local government recognition needs Abbott to come out and strongly support it or reject it: no more of his annoying equivocation.

    If the coalition refuse to strongly commit then Gillard should cancel the referendum.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Terry Mills

      It would be a breach of the 2010 agreement with Tony Windsor to simply cancel this referendum, even if the idea is backward looking and attempts to entrench the present inequitable distribution of state and federal tax revenues in metro cities.

      For the record, 30% of Australians live in regional centres occupying about 90% of the land mass and receive 10% of the tax revenue.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Yes, good points, Jack; the majority of metropolitan Australians hardly know what country they are living in.
      And "internal migration" to the cities by the continual depletion of neglected rural populations, reflects cynical unstated policies to apply some morally and financially bankrupt "Assett Price Maintenance" to metropolitan property prices so that continual "capital gain" will assuage the mortgage interest pain.
      It is an ugly picture indeed.

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  6. Michaelt Clayton

    logged in via Twitter

    Local municipal councils in the early times were just local groups of volunteers / local residents groups that were formed to meet periodically to advise state governments on which services were needed in local areas.

    That's what they should still be to-day as most services provided by local councils are contracted out to firms to complete.
    Local councils do very little for local residents. Water, roads, electricity, gas, rubbish removal parks and reserves and most other services are not provided…

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  7. Michaelt Clayton

    logged in via Twitter

    Google and watch the youtube video Pirates Of The Suburbs .. Supporters of local councils may have a change your mind.

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