Local government referendum

Taxpayers are already being billed for promoting division in the Constitution

Earlier this month, I gave the Prime Minister credit for rejecting calls for taxpayer funded conventions or conferences to assist advocates of constitutional recognition and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come up with a proposal.

Clearly, I spoke too soon:

On Friday, [Prime Minister Tony] Abbott reversed his opposition to taxpayer-funded conventions for indigenous ­people to try to build consensus on constitutional recognition.

The chairman of Mr Abbott’s indigenous advisory council, Warren Mundine, told The Australian yesterday he was relieved the conventions would go ahead.

It is entirely inappropriate that the government would assist one side of the debate in their quest to change, and entrench division, in the constitution.

However, this merely carries on a trend of taxpayer funding for the cause. Reconciliation Australia is funded predominantly by the federal government, and on at least two occasions has pledged extra taxpayer money for the express purpose of promoting constitutional recognition. In July 2012, Reconciliation Australia entered into a $10 million, two year funding agreement with the then ALP government, while the Coalition government promised to top up RECOGNISE (which is a part of Reconciliation Australia) with another $5 million last November.

Some groups have even been required to demonstrate what they are doing to advance constitutional recognition to justify government funding, as this segment on Four Corners highlighted:

Unlike the local government referendum, where the official ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases were funding by significantly different degrees, constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is being rigged before the referendum campaign has even begun.

Proponents for constitutional recognition are free to conduct their own conventions – and should do so at their own expense.


Where have the constitutional conservatives gone?


I have a piece at the ABC’s Drum arguing that the Coalition needs to rediscover its constitutional conservatism: the reluctance to amend the constitution that has given Australia institutional stability over the last century:

The Australian founders may not have intended it to be this hard to change the constitution. But there are good reasons for constitutional change to be difficult.

Constitutions exist in order to provide fixed rules about what governments can and cannot do. The strength of a constitution derives from the certainty it provides. A constitution that can be easily changed is not a constitution at all, in that it does not offer the stability necessary for long term economic and political management. In the pre-constitutional era, governments did not feel bound by rules. Now they do. That’s a very good thing.

This does not mean constitutions should be impossible to alter. But the danger to the constitution comes from reckless change, not stubborn adherence to the status quo.

Yet the we’ve seen in the last couple of years an unfortunate abandonment of that conservative legacy:

In opposition, Abbott had signed up to Gillard’s local government referendum. He had to be pulled back into line by state Liberal party divisions.

Abbott wants to amend the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians. You only need observe how the recognition debate has spiralled out of the Government’s control to see how antithetical it is to the conservative mindset.

Now senior ministers of the government are seriously proposing a constitutional amendment for no other reason than to stack the deck against a policy they oppose. And that policy is, we are repeatedly told, a second-order issue.

Read the whole thing here.


From bipartisan consensus to not being put to the ballot


Last week the new Local Government Minster, Warren Truss, declared the abandoned local government referendum that would have led to Canberra controlling Councils was officially dead. According to the speech:

“after the bad taste left in everyone’s mouths, now is not the time to raise the referendum question again. The new government has no plans to put the issue back on the agenda”.

The announcement has been reported in the Herald Sun today.

This victory should not be under-stated. When the referendum was announced it enjoyed bipartisan support and polled Continue Reading →


Council lobby should suck it up

Local councils are now insisting that the federal government should reimburse them for the millions of dollars they spent on the ‘Yes’ campaign for the referendum on constitutional recognition of local councils:

But Tim Wilson, from the Citizens’ No Campaign, said taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for councils that spent millions on consultants and advertising for a failed bid to boost their status in the Constitution.

“The council lobby has millions in assets. They should foot the bill when they knowingly commissioned high-priced Continue Reading →


Free book: ‘No: The Case Against Canberra’s Local Government Power Grab’

NOVAK_No-COVERfinalBefore Kevin Rudd called the federal election for Saturday 7 September, the IPA was leading the fight against the local government referendum.

We produced this one page factsheet and this popular YouTube video about the dangers of giving Canberra even more power over our lives.

We also planned to publish a book by IPA Senior Fellow Dr Julie Novak, No: The Case Against Canberra’s Local Government Power Grab.

Julie Novak has written the comprehensive, definitive case against amending the constitution to recognise local government. She covers every single argument for and against the referendum in 54 pages of powerful analysis.

By calling the election for 7 September, Kevin Rudd stopped the referendum – for now. But that doesn’t mean a future parliament won’t resurrect this dangerous idea. To ensure that does not happen, we’ve already sent copies of Julie’s book to every federal member of parliament.

If you would like a free copy of the book, simply email your mailing address to Hannah Pandel at the IPA at [email protected].


Gillard/Rudd attempt to corrupt democracy fails with referendum deferred

Freedom-loving David has once again defeated big government Goliath and their attempt to change the Constitution to give Canberra control of Councils.

Yesterday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that the referendum would be deferred because an election would be held on 7 September. According to reports Rudd has said:

“I’ve been a long-term supporter of constitutional recognition for local government, but I think we’re going to have to look at that in the next term.”

Had the plan been successful Canberra would have been able to impose whatever strings they wanted on Council funding. Australia would have been run entirely from Canberra as Councils lost control.

The IPA was at the forefront informing debate on this referendum, including articles by Julie Novak, John Roskam, Chris Berg and myself. The IPA also produced a viral video on the proposed change:

Continue Reading →


7 reasons to vote “no” at the referendum

vote-no-300x275University of Queensland’s constitutional law expert Suri Ratnapala has written an excellent essay on the proposal to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution. Ratnapala gives us seven sound reasons to reject this constitutional change, as:

the referendum will be bad for the Federation, bad for the states, bad for local communities and bad for the national economy…It is an echo of Gough Whitlam’s grand design for regional government directed from Canberra. The supporters of the amendment say that it does not constitutionally guarantee the existence, shape or form of local government bodies but leaves those matters to the judgment of state legislatures. This, as I argue presently, is not true.

The seven reasons? The planned constitutional changes will:

  1. undermine our federal system of government
  2. interfere with states’ powers local administration of their own state
  3. erode the legislative power of the states
  4. give the Commonwealth power to interfere in state policy
  5. weaken our current system that ensures that the regulation of the economy is decentralised and in not under the control of any one body
  6. fail to improve local government (despite contrary claims)
  7. allow the Commonwealth to subvert the Australian Constitution.

The upcoming referendum is a power grab that undermines the Constitution that has served us well over the past 112 years. It won’t improve local governments, but merely bring them under the direct control of Canberra, sidestepping the most important level of government in the Federation – the states.


ALP candidate: vote “no”

Labor candidate for the federal seat of Wannon in south west Victoria has stated to the Hamilton Spectator that he has reservations over the upcoming referendum. Michael Barling, a Warrnambool teacher, is running in the traditionally Liberal electorate, expressed that his “gut reaction” to the upcoming referendum is to be very cautious whenever changes to the constitution are proposed.

The proposed referendum on including local councils within the constitution is a power grab by Canberra, and all Australians should be wary of the government’s intent behind this referendum. Last week the IPA released this excellent video, with Tim Wilson giving a great break down of the referendum and why we should all vote “no.”


Update on Canberra’s local government power grab

The proposed local government referendum has been a major focus of the IPA’s research over recent months. Of course, the referendum isn’t really about local councils at all – it is about expanding the power of the federal government. The IPA’s research on the referendum is vital because the federal government has shamelessly skewed taxpayer funding in favour of the ‘yes’ campaign 20:1 in an effort to buy the outcome they want. Continue Reading →


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