Councils ordered to reveal spending

Councils have been ordered to hand over details on how much they are spending on the local government referendum – with the state government accused of bullying tactics.

Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell, an outspoken opponent of the referendum, has used the Local Government Act to ”direct” councils to release details of their funding for the ”yes” and ”no” cases.

The state government’s intervention comes as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office refuses to commit to the referendum.

Questioned on whether the referendum would proceed, a spokeswoman would only repeat Mr Rudd’s comment from a week ago: ”We have always been committed to making sure that we get this referendum done.

”But it makes it really hard when you’ve got a withdrawal, an apparent withdrawal, of bipartisan support.”

The federal uncertainty comes as the Napthine government intensifies its campaign to defeat the referendum.

In a letter to councils dated July 12, Ms Powell said it was in the public interest for councils to release details of their expenditure on the referendum.

The state government’s opposition to the referendum is at odds with the local government sector’s support for the yes case.

Ms Powell said in the letter: ”I have always sought to advocate for and act in the best interests of Victoria’s local government sector”. She said there ”is a strong possibility that Victorian councils will be financially disadvantaged by this change”.

She also said the referendum proposal ”could cause legal uncertainty, which could affect the ability of the sate government to intervene in poorly governed councils”.

The Municipal Association of Victoria is supporting a yes vote and has urged councils not to respond to the information request before the association obtains legal advice.

Opposition local government spokesman Richard Wynne said Ms Powell was attempting to bully local government.

”This is a highly political intervention by [Ms] Powell – she is trying to bully councils and restrict their democratic right to advocate on behalf of constituents,” he said.

”How much is the state government spending on the no case?”

A state government spokeswoman said the only expense for the government’s no campaign was the cost of speeches and media releases and there was no separate marketing budget.

She said the federal government was trying to buy the referendum with lopsided funding in support of the yes campaign, and it was in the public interest for funding for both cases to be declared.

The federal government awarded the yes case $10 million but the no case only $500,000 on the basis of how many MPs voted for the referendum in the lower house.

The planned referendum, to be held on the same day as the federal election, proposes to add 17 words to the constitution and alter section 96 to recognise local government for the purpose of federal financial assistance.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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