Thursday, 9 May 2013

We are apparently going to have a referendum

at the next election. The question will be concerned with whether we should recognise local government in the Australian Constitution.
Australia does not have a good record with respect to passing referenda questions. There have been 44 referenda to date and only 8 of them have been passed. 
One of the difficulties is that the passing of any referendum question requires what is known as a "double majority" - that is the question must be decided by a majority of voters in a majority of the states...a majority of voters alone is not sufficient. 
The last referendum question was on Australia "becoming a republic". It failed to gain a majority of voters in any of the states. 
A previous referendum question on the local government issue was put in 1988. It failed.
Both sides of politics support the idea of recognising local governement and it is easy to see why. It would give the Federal Government a great deal more power. It could bypass state governments to provide local government with finance for a range of things that are now decided on a state level. Voters however are apparently wary of providing the Federal Government with more power.
Putting a referendum question to the people is an expensive exercise. It is cheaper to put it at the same as an election but it is still expensive. Although the issue is supported by both sides of politics it may well fail - because people are wary of giving more power to the government. 
It is also possible that this time we are asking the wrong question. Australia is a country of just 23 million people. It may have a large land mass but it is a small country in terms of population. 
Despite that each state and territory has its own separate government. One state government, Tasmania, has a population of just over 512,000. We also have local government and the Federal government.
It is all ridiculously expensive to run. It was perhaps necessary once when communication had to be by letter and could take weeks. That is no longer the case but we cling to state governments and any suggestion that we do away with them - or the states - is not well received. 
A referendum to remove state governments would fail. It would mean the Australian Constitution would need to be rewritten. Perhaps though it is a debate we should have rather than one which tries to wrest power from the states through a referendum question which might well fail again. 

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