Councillor bucks trend on referendum

A WELLINGTON Shire councillor has spoken out against changing the Australian Constitution to allow the Federal Government to directly fund local councils.

Patrick McIvor has labelled the $55 million dollar referendum as “unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

In the referendum, to be held on the same day at the September 14 Federal Election, voters will decided whether to alter the constitution to make it easier for the Federal government to directly provide funding to local government, bypassing the states.

Cr McIvor claimed if it was successful, the Federal government, regardless of being Labor or Liberal-National, would have increased power and less accountability.

“This will be an unprecedented expansion of the power of the Commonwealth,” he said.

Wellington Shire Council last month voted to support the national ‘yes’ campaign and contribute $18,721 to it, provided 90 per cent of Victorian councils make a financial contribution. Cr McIvor was one of only two councillors to vote against the motion.

“The Commonwealth already has full power to grant funds to local government under Section 96 of the Australian Constitution,” he said.

“Some councillors naively think that many of Wellington’s services will somehow cease if direct Commonwealth funding is not allowed. That is an absolute furphy.

“I’ve heard people say that Roads to Recovery funding will cease if the referendum fails. Roads to Recovery funding is not at risk.

“The Commonwealth has a number of mechanisms through which it can provide funding to local government. The libraries, swimming pools and other community facilities are also not at risk. To say otherwise is misleading.”

Cr McIvor said councils should be sceptical about Federal government hints they may received increased funding.

“This promise doesn’t line up with the Federal Government’s steady cuts to local government for the past two decades,” he said.

“The Commonwealth’s contribution to local government through financial assistance grants has fallen by almost 40 per cent since 1996-97, and in this year’s Federal Budget the Gillard Government cut budgeted grants to Victorian councils by $13.4 million in 2013-14.

“It is important for the integrity of all three tiers of government that Canberra remains dedicated to the priority of nationwide governance, and (the) local council remains committed to the grassroots communities it represents.”

Cr McIvor was concerned the referendum would give the Commonwealth power to manipulate local councils through grants and funding with strings attached in ways it can’t now.

“I am concerned that this will lead to a situation where councils will be used to peddle policies and propaganda of the ruling party as a requirement of the funding,” he said.

“I am also concerned that the Federal government may re-allocate funding to councils in targeted electorates, depending on whether they are in safe or marginal seats, and according to its own political interests rather than the needs of our communities.”