Mark Coulton MP, Federal Member for Parkes

Constitutional Recognition of Local Government Committee Report

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Constitutional Recognition of Local Government Committee Report

Mark Coulton

I rise today to speak to the dissenting report from the coalition members of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government. Basically, the coalition is in favour of recognising local government but the timing of the recommendations in this report, which is a preliminary report, we feel is a little premature. This committee has until mid-March to run, and I would have thought that the appropriate time to make the recommendation to either proceed or not proceed would have been at that time and not at the start of the process. The chair of the committee highlighted the frustration of the committee with some of the witnesses, noticeably the ones from the Australian Local Government Association, who had been pushing this referendum but then seem to have got cold feet at the last minute.

The expert panel that looked at this issue concluded some time ago. The ministers had about 10 months to bring all the state and local government organisations on board. It seemed that very little had been done in that particular time. Having said that, I still think in the next few weeks there is an opportunity for the minister to remedy that, and others are very keen for this to happen. I mentioned constitutional recognition in my maiden speech to this place and it is something very important to me. One of the frustrations I have found is that a lot of people had come to a position on this before the wording was actually decided. This is a very minimal change. This is basically closing the loophole to enable the funding processes that are already in place to continue. There is, in some ways, a part of me as a former local government mayor wishing that this referendum was asking for more but, in fact, it is not. It is only asking to close the loopholes so that some of the regional programs such as Roads to Recovery can continue.

As a regional member, the words of Professor Twomey, who actually spoke against this referendum saying that it was going to favour regional local government areas, were enough reason for me to want to support it. The executive of the Australian Local Government Association said that the politics of 2013 are of such a toxic nature that this referendum should not proceed. In my entire life, I cannot remember a federal election that was not hard fought. I cannot remember a federal election where the government and the opposition were in the same place, where there was going to be perfect harmony and where there was going to be no conflict. There is the idea that this is somehow a more tense and conflicted era and that, therefore, the likelihood of this referendum succeeding is diminished.

The committee has a hearing in Sydney next week to gather more information. If the minister decides to go ahead with this there is going to be a big effort required not only from the minister but also from other members in this place who are keen for this to happen, and also from the associations. I think our state and national bodies could be doing more. They have access to their communities right across Australia. If they want this to happen, it will happen.

To those people who are less enamoured with the idea of this referendum, all I can say is what is being proposed is a minimal change. If you are ambivalent about it, keep that to yourself and there might be some chance. The coalition members are very clear in the dissenting report. That the announcement in this report should go ahead regardless, I think, is premature. If in the next few weeks we find that there is a lack of support and indeed opposition from the states and an ambivalence from ALGA then I think that the minister should consider his position. (Time expired)

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