Howard gazumps Beatties councils laws

15th August 2007Up to 50 angry Queensland councils could press ahead with referenda on the shire mergers after the Federal Government confirmed today it will introduce amendments designed to protect them from the sack.

Mr Howard will introduce new laws which will override restrictions and penalties on a poll or plebecite on Queensland Council amalgamation.

This morning the Coalition approved legislation at a joint party meeting to ammend the electoral commission’s powers so that councils can hold a ballot on the mergers without the threat of penalties – something the Queensland Government last week ruled would occur.

Mr Howard said he had a very simple message for Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie – “Let the people of your State speak,” he said.

Mr Howard said the Federal Government was intervening by proposing amendments to the Australian Electoral Commission Act, to allow Queenslanders the right to a say on structural reform to a level of government.

He said Mr Beattie was behaving in a “dictatorial fashion” and the State Government had made it an offence to conduct a plebecite on the issue.

Federal Senators or Members of Parliament will be able to request, on behalf of their constituents, for the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct polls on the specific issue of council amalgamations, effectively removing the councillors from responsibility for the process.

While the primary motive would be to protect councils from the sack, by standing up for the Government’s rural and regional constituency in Queensland, it is also aimed at forcing Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, to vote in support of the Federal Coalition’s policy over that of his State Labor counterpart.

However, Premier Peter Beattie this week dismissed any such a move as a stunt that would have enormous ramifications for the conduct of government business by opening the way for polls on all manner of issues.

But Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive, Greg Hallam disputed this, saying the proposed amendments have been “carefully crafted to make it clear that it’s for this purpose and this purpose only”.

SOURCE: Extract from Queensland Country Life, August 16.