Say ‘No’ to Canberra’s Power Grab

Hidden amongst the hullaballoo about the latest federal idden amongst the hullaballoo about the latest federal budget is another attempt by the Labor Party to radically alter the way our nation is governed.

For a third time, Labor are putting forward a referendum to recognise local government in our Constitution. It sounds innocuous enough. After all, how can acknowledging our local councils in our founding document have much impact on the country?

Proponents of this change maintain it is a simple amendment to s96 of our Constitution in order for the Commonwealth to make grants directly to local councils on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit. The reality is somewhat different.

Firstly, this amendment is wholly unnecessary. Despite what the supporters say, the Commonwealth has always been able to fund local councils by directing money through the states. So this referendum isn’t about funding per se; it is more about the mechanism of providing some grants.

Advocates for the change also raise the High Court decision in respect to some direct grant programs like Roads to Recovery and school chaplaincy as justifying the need for change. This is another red herring and conveniently ignores the longstanding support for this matter by the political left. Labor has put forward this referendum question on two previous occasions – in 1974 and in 1988, predating these supposedly significant court decisions justifying this latest move. The Whitlam referendum failed with less than 50 per cent public support whilst the Hawke referendum failed with only one-third public support.

Like most lefty agendas, continued rejection by the people seems to be no excuse not to keep trying.

And herein lies perhaps the most significant aspect of this change and what I confidently believe is the true motive behind the left’s support. It will further concentrate power in Canberra with federal bureaucrats and politicians having more control over your local community. This has always been the principal reason that the Liberal Party has opposed this significant change.

Conservatives recognise that the checks and balances inherent in our federalist structure of government are an important means of reducing the risk of abuse of Commonwealth power. This constitutional change puts those checks and balances at risk.

This latest proposal would appear doomed before it has even begun. There is a distinct lack of support from many state premiers. Grassroots conservatives have also voiced their opposition and many in the community haven’t a clue what this is about and why it needs to be rushed through.

On that latter point, even the Australian Electoral Commission has said that 27 weeks is needed for an appropriate case to be made for a referendum to win support. Some members of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition voiced concerns about the current lack of support for this issue among the community. Yet Labor are still rushing ahead to put this before the people at the next election.

One can only presume it is intended as a distraction from their parlous performance in government with some obscure hope that it might save them a few seats. The more cynical among us might think there is an alternative motive. Perhaps Labor believes that the intensity of dissatisfaction with the Gillard Government will allow this supposedly minor change to our Constitution to slip through without appropriate scrutiny. That might give the proposal a modest prospect of success.

That prospect and the implications for our system of government if this referendum succeeds should be enough for every conservative to join the fight to defeat the left’s latest scheme to seize power from the people.

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