The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has written to political leaders requesting that a portion of public funding provided to local government to promote a 2013 referendum on constitutional recognition of local government be used to reimburse the sector for money spent on a national campaign prior to the referendum being cancelled for reasons beyond its control.
ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis said the local government sector was surprised and disappointed when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on 4 August that the referendum was being dropped and that the election would proceed on 7 September.
“The referendum to include local government was scheduled to be held in conjunction with a 14 September federal election and local government was given $10 million in Commonwealth funds to execute a national campaign to promote the Yes Case,” Mayor Lewis said.
“The local government sector has spent in the order of $3 million in developing a grassroots public relations campaign for rollout under the expectation that the referendum would be held on 14 September.
“The decision to drop the 2013 referendum was made without consultation with local government and for reasons which were beyond local government’s control and ALGA believes it would be inequitable if councils had to bear the costs of the associated campaign.
“I have 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.
“We are seeking support from political parties for ALGA to use a portion of the funds received from the Commonwealth to fully reimburse local government for the costs of the referendum campaign. This will be a decision for an incoming government.
“Councils across the country are rightly upset by the decision to withdraw the referendum but the strength of their disappointment will greatly increase if the incoming government determines that they will also be left to bear the costs of supporting the Parliament’s decision to hold a referendum on the financial recognition of local government.”