Qld council polls to be paid for by Fed Govt

7th August 2007The Federal Government has intervened in the contentious issue of Queensland council amalgamations, offering to pay for the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct the referenda which the State Government has refused to conduct.

Prime Minister John Howard announced the plan in Question Time today, under which the Federal Government will pay for the AEC to conduct a referendum free of charge for any local government that requests it.

Nationals Senate Leader Ron Boswell says the move is designed to act as a lifeline for communities “threatened with involuntary amalgamation”.

“Beattie’s clampdown on grass roots democracy will be exposed for what it is: a deeply unpopular move with widespread community opposition,” he said.

Sen Boswell said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie had threatened defiant mayors and councillors who went ahead with polls with $1125 fines because “he is desperate to prevent the extent of the unhappiness with his government being made public”.

“If there were no Coalition government in Canberra, there would be no federal avenue to help save these local communities from the Labor Premier,” he said.

“Even though Mr Rudd wants any Queensland local amalgamations to be voluntary, he hasn’t been able to do anything about it.”

However, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said federally funded referenda would not prevent the amalgamation of Queensland councils.

“There would be no legal consequences for these referenda,” he said.

Mr Beattie said the Prime Minister was “leading taxpayers on” and holding referendums that would make no difference was “dishonest and sneaky”.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s Local Government Minister Andrew Fraser today introduced legislation to State Parliament which would fast-track the redifinition of council boundaries from 157 to 72 in time for next March’s local government elections.

Mr Fraser has today pledged $27 million to help councils with the transition process, but he also reiterated his threat to fine councillors who participate in a poll, despite the Federal Government’s intervention.

“I have already indicated that Councillors will be personally liable for any costs associated with unnecessary referenda and that will still be the case if any Councils instigate this pointless exercise,” he said.

SOURCE: Queensland Country Life and BrisbaneTimes.