Suspension of Standing Orders on Recognition of Local Government Referendum

I seek leave to move:
That further consideration of the Constitution Alteration (Local Government) Bill 2013 be an order of the day for the first day of sitting after the government provides for equal funding for both the yes and the no case, to ensure that the Australian community is properly informed about the arguments for and against the proposed change to the Constitution.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving the motion to provide for the consideration of the matter that I just read out to the chamber.

There is no more important debate for this country than a change to its fundamental document, the Constitution. It is absolutely appropriate that any discussion of matters constitutional be dealt with on a fair and equitable basis, as has always occurred in Australia. The prime example of that is when we had Prime Minister Howard—an ardent constitutional monarchist—saying that in deciding whether or not Australia should become a republic there should be equal funding to the constitutional monarchists and the republicans.

In relation to the local government issue the coalition have always proceeded on the basis of bipartisanship, with the hope that there would be an equality of treatment for the yes and no cases. What we now have is a government sneaking a proposal through to ensure that the yes case gets 20 times the funding of the no case. That is not fair. That is not transparent. That is not the way that we do business in Australia.

That is why we, as a coalition, are most concerned to ensure that before this matter proceeds further we have the opportunity of ensuring equality of funding for the yes and no cases. This is so typical of this government. They see an outcome that they want. What do they do? They throw buckets of money at it—$10 million worth—and say that the no case is worthy of only $500,000. That is a factor of 20 to one.

Any sense of decency or fairness would surely motivate somebody to say that both sides should be equally funded. That is what we in the coalition believe. It is the integrity of the referendum process that is ultimately even more important than the question itself. We want to ensure that the Australian people are properly informed in relation to these matters, and that the government does not buy—with taxpayers' money—a victory in a referendum. So the coalition say that, above all things, the principles here are vitally more important than the consideration of the actual question.

Never before has this occurred. What is even worse is that this government, without any consultation with the opposition said, 'We will declare the funding on the basis of how many people voted no and yes in the House of Representatives.'

What about the Senate? I thought we were in a bicameral system of parliament. And any senator who is worthy of their stipend as a senator must surely vote against a proposal put forward by Mr Albanese and Ms Gillard saying that the Senate does not count when it comes to constitutional change. Of course the Senate must count, otherwise you are abrogating your responsibilities as senators in this place.

It will be very interesting to see how our friends in the Australian Greens vote on this particular proposition, because they are the ones who I understand now are trying to adopt the Australian Democrats' slogan of keeping certain people honest. Well, this is a good example—the first test for them to live up to their own challenge of keeping certain people honest, namely, the Australian Labor Party government—of keeping them honest to ensure that there is equality, there is transparency and there is fairness in the issue of equality of funding for a referendum proposal and, more importantly, the role of the Australian Senate in determining constitutional issues.

The coalition comes to the Senate arguing cohesively, on principle—on all the principles that we can muster—to ensure that equality in this debate is assured for the Australian people and that the government and others do not buy a result based on throwing taxpayers' money at it.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

Read more


136 Davey Street
Hobart  TAS  7001

(03) 6224 3707