Local Government Referendum

The referendum

The Commonwealth Government previously announced that would hold a referendum on the direct funding of local government at the next federal election, which was then anticipated to be held on 14 September 2013. However, the change from Prime Minister Gillard to Prime Minister Rudd led to a changed election date of 7 September 2013, which is one week earlier.

The Constitution requires that there be a minimum period of 2 months between the date the referendum bill is passed by both Houses and when it is ‘submitted’ to electors in a referendum. The Australian Electoral Commission has received legal advice that the date a referendum is ‘submitted’ to voters, is not just the official polling day, but also includes any earlier date upon which postal voting or pre-poll voting is permitted. The consequence is that the local government referendum cannot be held with the general election on 7 September, because the minimum period of two months will not have passed before postal voting commences.

The Rudd Government has stated that if it is re-elected it will reconsider whether or not to hold the referendum in its next term. The Opposition appears to be uncommitted as to whether or not to hold the referendum if it is elected.

The maximum period for holding a referendum based upon the Bill that has already passed the Parliament is six months. Hence, a stand-alone referendum could take place after the general election at any time up until December.

Given that there is still potential for the referendum to be held on the same basis as in the current Bill, this site continues to set out the relevant arguments and useful material for electors.

The proposed amendment

The Commonwealth Parliament passed a Bill in June 2013 to put to a referendum a proposed amendment to section 96 of the Constitution to add the words in bold:

    During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State, or to any local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

The proposed question

The question asked of voters in a referendum usually gives the long title of the proposed law and then asks voters ‘Do you approve this proposed alteration?’. On this basis, the question asked of voters would be:

    A PROPOSED LAW: A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution to recognise local government by stating that the Commonwealth can grant financial assistance to local government, including assistance for community and other services.


Alternative Yes/No case

The official Yes/No case had not yet been published prior to the referendum date being dropped because of the changed election date. Here is an alternative Yes/No case prepared by the Constitutional Reform Unit to help you become informed about the arguments on both sides. We have tried to exclude misleading arguments and added qualifications where necessary for the arguments to stand up.

Additional Reading

For those people who would like to find out more about local government and the proposed referendum, including the history of previous referenda on the subject, the Constitutional Reform Unit has prepared a Bibliography. Part A lists relevant articles, chapters and speeches. Part B provides a summary of relevant reports and submissions. Part C lists articles about the previous 1988 referendum. Part D provides links to relevant press releases and media commentary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Voters need information in order to make an informed vote at a referendum. No one should feel compelled to vote ‘No’ simply because they don’t know enough about the issues. Each referendum should be given a fair go and determined upon its merits. The Constitutional Reform Unit has prepared a list of frequently asked questions to give you information you might need before casting a vote on this issue if the referendum proceeds.