Greens local government spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon
Greens local government spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon Contributed

Lee Rhiannon questions Abbott's commitment to referendum

THE Liberal Party has been accused of trying to sabotage the referendum to recognise local government in the Constitution.

Greens local government spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon questioned the Coalition's commitment to the "yes" campaign after the Queensland Government said it could not support the September 14 referendum unless the proposed wording was changed.

It came as the House of Representatives voted 134-2 on Wednesday night in favour of the Constitutional change.

If Queensland was to withdraw its support it would come as a huge blow to the "yes" campaign considering Premier Campbell Newman has been the only state leader to back the change.

Senator Rhiannon called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to "lay his cards on the table".

"Does he really back the referendum ... or is this U-turn by Premier Newman indicative of a tactic in his party to destabilise the campaign?," Senator Rhiannon said.

"There was great excitement among councils in February when at parliamentary committee hearings in Sydney it was revealed that Premier Newman had written to his fellow premiers calling on them to support a referendum.

"Premier Newman's questioning of wording of the referendum suggests another agenda is working to spoil the 'yes' vote."

Mr Newman and Queensland Local Government Minister David Crisafulli wrote to the latter's federal counterpart Anthony Albanese on Wednesday asking that two sentences be added to the referendum question.

Mr Crisafulli said he wanted to "find a way to get the referendum passed", adding his suggested change would protect local government from federal control.

"When the Gillard government rushed to put the issue to a vote, my immediate concern was how the question was phrased or if it would open council funding to a new set of federal conditions," Mr Crisafulli said.

"Unfortunately, our suspicions have been proved right. The Newman Government recognises the need of local governments to be funded directly by the Federal Government, but not controlled by it."

He said the Queensland Government had legal advice suggesting the current wording would allow the Federal Government to set its own conditions for funding.

The development was applauded by former Howard government minister Peter Reith, who has helped form group to oppose the referendum on the grounds it would be a "Canberra power grab".

"Campbell Newman has confirmed Canberra will be able to impose its priorities on services without the local knowledge to deliver them successfully," Mr Reith said.

Mr Albanese said the overwhelming vote in the lower house on Thursday night showed "the proposed amendment has strong bipartisan support in the Federal Parliament".

APN Newsdesk put a series of questions to opposition local government spokesman Barnaby Joyce who was travelling on Thursday and could not be contacted.



The Queensland Government wants these sentences added to the referendum:

"The terms and conditions of a grant of financial assistance to a State or to a local government body formed by a law of a State are subject to the laws of the State.

"An entity formed by a law of a State is a local government body for the purposes of subsection (1) if, and only if, the State's law so provides."

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