16th August 2007Draft laws have been introduced to federal parliament that overturn a Queensland ban on councils taking part in referenda on amalgamations.
The draft law introduced to the lower house permits the federal electoral roll to be used to enable referenda on local government amalgamations to take place.
It also overrides a law passed by Queensland parliament that would allow the sacking of local governments which participate in referenda on council amalgamations.
The federal government is opposed to the Queensland government’s plan to forcibly reduce the number of local councils in the state from 156 to 72 and has offered to fund local referenda or plebiscites on the issue.
“The bill provides that a law of a state and territory has no effect if it prohibits anyone from, or penalises or discriminates anyone for, entering or proposing to enter into an arrangement with the Australian Electoral Commission,” Special Minister of State Gary Nairn said when introducing the bill to the lower house.
“This also applies where a person or body takes part in or assists with, or proposes to take part in or assist with, the conduct of an activity to which an arrangement relates.”
Mr Nairn said the law was needed because the Queensland Parliament passed laws on August 10 that stated, “unless overridden by this commonwealth law, would prevent councillors in that state having any involvement with these plebiscites”.
Debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007 has been adjourned.
Earlier, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said he would support a bid by Prime Minister John Howard to overturn the ban.
Mr Rudd, who opposes the Queensland Labor government’s policy of slashing the number of councils in the state from 156 to 72, said federal Labor would support the bill proposed by Mr Howard.
“I have disagreed with it (forced council mergers), disagreed with it for the last three months,” Mr Rudd told reporters.
“And on top of that disagreement, when it comes to fines or the threat of fines and the making it illegal for local authorities to test the sentiment of their local voters if they so wish, I’ve disagreed with those courses of action on the part of Mr Beattie.
“And therefore, the course of action which has been outlined by Mr Howard I’m prepared to support.”
Mr Rudd said local communities had a right to be consulted on proposed local government mergers.
“This is a structure of government question,” he said.
“There’s commonwealth government, there’s state government, there’s local government.
“This goes to the whole structure of local government in Queensland. And my view, pretty basic view, is that local communities should be consulted.”
Mr Rudd said he had consistently opposed council amalgamations since May.
“I seem to recall that way back in May I went and saw Mr Beattie face to face and said ‘Peter I don’t think this is the right way to go’,” he said.
“‘I think it’s wrong for a number of reasons and here they are and I’ll be indicating this publicly tomorrow unless you’re going to change your approach.’
“That was back in May. I’ve been consistent about this since then.”
Asked if he had ever asked Mr Beattie to delay local government reform until after the federal election, Mr Rudd said, “Not that I can recall, that we had discussions about that level of timing.”
Up to 50 angry Queensland councils could press ahead with referenda on the shire mergers after the Federal Government confirmed today it will introduce the amendments designed to protect them from the sack. (See separate story).
SOURCE: AAP and FarmOnline