Referendum 2013: August Update

Jessy Burke / August 26, 2013 01:39 PM

The proposed local government referendum will no longer be held in conjunction with the federal election. 

Kevin Rudd’s chosen date of September 7th falls out of the time range specified in electoral law. The decision was made without consultation with local government leaders, who must now wait for the next parliament to be settled before the referendum can go ahead.

The local government sector is understandably angered by the decision, and has requested that more than $3 million already spent on the “yes” campaign be refunded by the federal government.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president, Felicity-Ann Lewis, announced that she has “. . . written to the leaders of the major political parties emphasising that ALGA undertook development of its campaign on the basis of the overwhelming level of support from all political parties and the Parliament's decision to proceed with the referendum.

“ALGA negotiated with the Commonwealth on public funding for the campaign in good faith. We secured funding from councils of up to $10 million to invest in the referendum campaign and we secured a national campaign director and relevant communications agencies to assist in the campaign effort.” 

In hindsight, the decision, which was held without consultation with local government, may prove to be a blessing. The sector has invested considerable time and effort on the issue, and it is more than likely that any grassroots, mainstream or social media “yes” campaign would have been drowned out amongst the barrage of policy announcements, sound bites, advertisements and debates that is the focus of political reporting in the lead-up to the election.

While an independent referendum could cost an estimated $121 million, the pay-off may well be a better informed electorate and a greater chance of the referendum succeeding.