STATE government MP David Morris claims federal funding to Mornington Peninsula Shire has decreased and has warned against giving the commonwealth more power over local government at a referendum in September.
Mr Morris, the Liberal MP for Mornington, said funding for the coming financial year was $166,412 less than received for 2012-13.
Describing the cut as a “major blow for the council when it is finalising its annual budget”, Mr Morris said federal funding to Victorian councils had decreased by $13.4 million in 2013-14.
“The hardest hit councils have lost almost half a million dollars in federal funding,” he said.
Mr Morris criticised commonwealth spending on the upcoming referendum on local government, describing it as a “propaganda campaign”.
On September 14 – federal election day – Australians will also vote on a referendum to recognise local government in the constitution.
The move has the support of the vast majority of federal MPs and has been the subject of extensive lobbying by the Australian Local Government Association and the Municipal Association of Victoria.
It will enable the federal government to directly fund local government without going through the state government as is presently the case.
The shire has contributed $20,000 to an MAV fighting fund in support of the constitutional change.
Mr Morris, who is parliamentary secretary for local government, said the state government was opposed to the constitutional change.
“The system’s worked perfectly well for the last 113 years,” he said.
“At present, councils derive all of their authority from state parliament; if we get the federal government mixed in, it just complicates the picture even further for absolutely no benefit.”
There was potential for Canberra to place onerous conditions on local government funding.
But MAV president Bill McArthur hit back, saying the state government’s campaign against the referendum was “truly bizarre”.
“The referendum seeks to formalise what has occurred under both Liberal and Labor federal governments for over a decade,” he said.
“It is about removing the current legal risks that place existing federal money for local roads and community facilities under a cloud of doubt following recent High Court decisions.”
He refuted as “scaremongering” the claims that a constitutional change could undermine state powers.
“The wording [of the referendum] has been specifically designed by constitutional law experts to ensure local government remains a state responsibility,” he said.
“The claim that money to Victorian councils could also be reduced is a sad reality faced by councils every day. Funding cuts from any governments – state or federal – can occur at any time. This is unrelated to and regardless of any change to our constitution.”
The referendum has strong bipartisan support in the federal parliament; only two MPs voted against changing the constitution to recognise local government.
The News sought comment from shire mayor Cr Lynn Bowden and CEO Michael Kennedy about what the cuts would mean but they could not be contacted before deadline.