Coalition slams plan to hold referendum during Sept election

THE Federal Coalition has attacked the proposal for a local government referendum on grounds it would confuse voters during the September election.

While the Opposition says it supports the notion of constitutional recognition of local government, several Coalition Senators hit out during debate on Wednesday on the bill to allow the referendum to happen this year.

The bill aims to change Commonwealth law to allow the government to spend money on campaigns for a yes vote, rather than equally on the positive and negative effects of a successful referendum.

If unsuccessful, the government would be bound to present both sides of the debate equally in any promotions for the referendum.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in announcing the referendum, said the government would be campaigning for a yes vote.

Liberal Senator Scott Ryan said it did not matter what side of the debate people sat on, the best decision must ensure voters were informed of both arguments.

He said while the government wanted to hold the referendum on the same day as the federal election, there were sound reasons why it should be held separately.

New South Wales Senator Arthur Sinodinos said the election should be about the merits of two sides of politics, rather than being confused by the referendum.

Debate comes after Tuesday's budget revealed $50 million would be spent to conduct the referendum, including $11 million on a public education about the vote.

Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-ann Lewis said history showed referendums did not succeed without bipartisan support.

"This week will be the first test of strength of the bipartisan support for the referendum," she said.

"The shared view among all commentators and experts is that without bipartisan support, it is not possible for a referendum to succeed."

Mayor Lewis said the challenge for ALGA was to work within a "rapidly decreasing timeframe" to run a successful campaign to see the referendum passed.

"As I have said many times before, we don't just want to run a referendum, we want to win a referendum, and to do that, we need bipartisan support for a referendum to go forward."

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