House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Questions without Notice

Local Government

2:15 pm

Photo of Cameron ThompsonCameron Thompson (Blair, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of developments in the Commonwealth’s response to the Queensland government’s proposal for forced local government amalgamations?

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the member for Blair that the joint parties of the government met this morning and they have authorised the introduction of a bill into parliament as soon as possible to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act. That bill will be entitled the Commonwealth Electoral Democratic Plebiscites Amendment Bill 2007. It will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to give effect to our commitment to assist local councils in holding plebiscites on amalgamations if they choose to do so.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I notice the static coming from the other side. Is this another contortion? I thought the Leader of the Opposition said he supported what I announced this morning, but maybe he is supporting it while allowing some of his friends to oppose it. That is a typical line. He is walking on both sides of the street.

Our amendments will do two things: firstly, authorise the use of the electoral roll by the Australian Electoral Commission for the purposes of conducting the plebiscites or referenda; and, secondly and importantly, this bill will provide that a state or territory law has no effect if it imposes any penalties on or discriminates against anyone who is involved in an activity associated with the holding of a plebiscite or referendum. My message to the Premier of Queensland is: let your people speak. Let the people of Queensland have their say. Let the people of Queensland, if they wish, express their democratic opinion.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Industrial Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Brendan O’Connor interjecting

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Gorton is warned!

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I will not express a view on whether I think individual amalgamations are good or bad, but I do express the view that it would be desirable for the Queensland Premier to abandon his jackboot tactics towards the councils of that state. This is the same Premier who rails against any attempt by the Commonwealth government to fill a gap left by a state service in the state of Queensland. In case anybody thinks that the Commonwealth government has no role, business or concern in relation to these matters, I tell the House that this financial year the Commonwealth will provide $403.5 million in general purpose and road funding to the councils of Queensland. That is more than 50 per cent of the amount the Queensland government claims that it will provide to local government in the state of Queensland. Any idea that we have no role, interest or concern in relation to local government in Queensland, that local government is entirely the responsibility of the Queensland government or that this is some kind of gratuitous intervention by the Commonwealth government is completely false.

I want to place on record that I first raised this matter on the day of the last budget. On the day the budget was brought down, I spoke very strongly on behalf of many people who had been to Barcaldine and attended a great rally, ironically enough, near the Tree of Knowledge. Ironically enough, that is the birthplace of a political party that we are all very familiar with. I spoke very strongly in favour of the people of Queensland being able to speak on this issue. I also record that the very next day after I made my statement somebody who was in the electorate of Kennedy, accompanying the member for Kennedy to some meetings, put his hand up in a fairly tentative way and said that it would be a nice idea for the people of Queensland to be consulted about this issue. That person was none other than the Leader of the Opposition.