20th August 2007Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’s decision to withdraw threats to sack councils if they conduct amalgamation ballots has been hailed as a victory for the people by Prime Minister John Howard.
Mr Beattie yesterday backed down from plans to sack any council or councillors involved in holding referenda on the controversial proposal to slash the number of Queensland Councils from 156 to 72.
It followed State Government polling which exposed the high level of discontent with Premier Beattie’s bull-dozer attitude to the public backlash, with most people in favour of referenda being permitted.
But Mr Howard is also claiming some credit for the change of heart.
“If my Government had not acted as we did, Mr Beattie would have continued to act in an arbitrary jackbooted fashion, trampling over the rights of the people of Queensland,” Mr Howard said.
“In flagging plans last week to change the Commonwealth Electoral Act to ensure Queenslanders could participate in plebiscites in local government areas, my Government cleared the way for the Queensland people to express their views without penalty.”
The Prime Minister has reaffirmed his offer to fund ballots on the issue, but distanced himself from rejecting the Queensland Government’s local government reform agenda.
“However, if there is a strong expression of opinion in local government areas that choose to go ahead with the ballots, the Queensland Government may be forced to reconsider those amalgamations,” he said.
Nationals Senate Leader Ron Boswell says Mr Beattie has only shifted his stance for fear of damaging Labor’s chances at the Federal election.
“Queensland Labor saw that their actions over past weeks of attacking democratic rights were destroying Labor’s chances at the upcoming Federal election and they had to take a step back,” Sen Boswell said.
“For Premier Bettie to now try to convince Queenslanders that he wants them to have their say, and restore their right to protest is duplicitous and deceptive.
“This backflip has only come about because it has been forced by grass roots community anger and legislative pressure from the Federal Coalition that will enable Councils to hold referendums on this issue anyway.”
Sen Boswell said councils would still be merged regardless of the poll outcomes, and encouraged local communities to continue their fight.
“The true victory will only be won when the plan to forcibly amalgamate councils is abandoned once and for all in favour of a sensible programme where councils and communities can choose their own destiny,” he said.
SOURCE: Rural Press National News Bureau, Parliament House, Canberra.