Opposition Leader Tony Abbott meet local residents at Whittlesea RSL club. Photo: Penny StephensBipartisan support for the local government referendum appears to have collapsed with Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne advising the Australia Local Government Association to call on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to ”pull” the upcoming vote.
This came after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he had ”enormous reservations” about the referendum to recognise local government in the constitution, delivering a serious blow to the ”Yes” campaign.
Constitutional expert Professor George Williams has previously noted the referendum will only succeed if there is strong support from the Coalition.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that the referendum had been mishandled by the government, and encouraged voters to tick ”No” if they had concerns about it.
He said Labor had ignored the advice of the committee that explored the issue, and had failed to properly consult state governments.
”This thing has been done badly and undemocratically,” Mr Abbott said.
”I say to the Australian people, if you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it.”
In Adelaide on Tuesday, Mr Pyne – who is not the Coalition’s spokesman on the matter – said the government had not laid the groundwork for the referendum to pass.
Mr Pyne said Labor had instead created the referendum as a ”distraction” from its troubles.
”My advice to the Australian Local Government Association is they should ask the Prime Minister to pull the referendum … because I believe it will be defeated under the current circumstances and if it is defeated a third time, no government will want to return to it again,” he said.
Mr Pyne said people were confused about what was happening in Canberra, ”let alone being asked to pass a change on the Constitution”.
The Coalition’s spokesman on local government, Barnaby Joyce, told Sky News shortly after Mr Pyne’s doorstop that it was for the Local Government Association to ”determine where the best chances lie” for the referendum.
While Senator Joyce has agreed to campaign for a ”Yes” vote, he said its chances of success were being ”clouded by complete chaos”.
The referendum will ask voters whether or not they agree to the financial recognition of local government in the Constitution, amending section 96, which deals with financial assistance to the states.
This would guarantee the federal government’s ability to directly fund local government projects such as the Roads to Recovery program, as well as services such as childcare, sporting fields, swimming pools and libraries.
In May, former prime minister Julia Gillard announced the referendum would be held in conjuction with the September 14 election.
It could still be held in conjunction with a September 14 poll, or later. But now that the election date is due to change, there are question marks over the referendum.
The Coalition had already registered reservations about the referendum.
When the Senate voted on the referendum last month, seven Coalition MPs crossed the floor to vote against the bill and about a dozen others abstained.
Last month, the government also revealed that the campaign against recognising local government in the constitution would receive one twentieth of the public funding allocated to the ”Yes” case – a move that also angered some within the Coalition ranks.
The “No” case will receive $500,000 while the “Yes” case will get $10 million, which Anthony Albanese argued was allocated based on the level of support in the Parliament.
In May, the referendum bill passed the lower house, 134 votes to 2.
Australia does not have a strong history of supporting referendums. Similar attempts to recognise local government in 1974 and 1988 were not successful and only eight referendums out of 44 have been successful since 1906.
The Local Government Association has been contacted for comment.
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.