Wimmera to vote on Australian Constitution change

WIMMERA residents will vote on local government recognition in the Australian Constitution when they go to the polls on September 14.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Thursday thata referendum would be part of the federal election.

The national vote was a pre-election commitment by the Australian Labor Party during the 2010 federal election campaign.

Referendums, which require a majority of Australians and a majority of states to pass, are notoriously unsuccessful with just eight of the nation’s 44 votes being approved.

Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Andrew Evans said councils had been fighting for years to correct the ‘glitch’ in the Constitution that failed to recognise local government.

He said it would allow the Federal Government to direct money straight to councils rather than having to go through state governments.

“I think the Constitution needs to be updated to reflect the modern world and to reflect what we do in practice,” he said.

“Local government is surely here to stay so that should be recognised in the Constitution.

“The best thing for the overall community is for local government to be fitted into the Constitution.

“We are the tier of government closest to the community and it is only right and proper for us to be recognised.”

Northern Grampians Mayor Wayne Rice said constitutional recognition would act as a safeguard protecting local government.

“What people seem to forget is that there is more and more cost shifting from both upper levels of government to local government so you can’t do away with the people on the ground in councils,” he said.

“It will allow us direct access to the Federal Government so if they want to keep giving us more responsibility they can’t do away with us.

“There seems to be a bit of a ground swell in favour of this referendum.”

West Wimmera Shire Mayor Bruce Meyer said he was concerned that local government recognition would hand the Federal Government too much control over councils.

“If they want the right to be able to give grants directly to local government they could surely legislate it or work out a way to get it done,” he said.

“We still need to be dealing with our own states on the big issues for local government rather than going to Canberra with the Federal Government.

“I would reserve my judgment until we see the wording of this referendum legislation – is this a full takeover of control of local government by the Federal Government or are we just dealing with this direct funding issue?

“If it is a full takeover I am not interested.”

Horsham Mayor David Grimble said the referendum would require state support to be successful.

“Probably what we need to do is ensure that the public actually understand what this referendum is all about and its importance,” he said.

“The challenge is going to be to get all the states to support it too.”

Hindmarsh Mayor and Rural Councils Victoria chairman Rob Gersch said the referendum on September 14 would be the only chance for constitutional recognition for ‘many years’.

“It would be a lifetime to have another crack at it so it is imperative it is successful,” he said.

“The success rate of referendums is not good so when you go to a referendum you have to be fairly sure you are going to win it.

“If all state governments are on board and willing to support it, I am happy to roll with it.”

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Staying mum on maternity leave

Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave plan will be a big incentive for women in the workforce to have children, according to Member for Calare John Cobb.TRADITIONAL political stereotypes have turned on their head in the current debate over maternity leave entitlements.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott is standing by his controversial scheme that would see new mothers receive 26 weeks of maternity paid at the rate of their wage when they finished working, up to a salary of $150,000.

That means new mothers stand to receive up to $75,000 in maternity entitlements – significantly more generous than the existing scheme.

Currently, eligible new mothers can receive 18 weeks of maternity leave at the rate of the minimum wage – $606.40 a week, for a total of almost $11,000.

You would think women’s groups would be effusive in their praise for the Abbott proposal, but that has been far from the case.

With a few notable exceptions – such as feminist author Eva Cox – prominent women have been strangely muted in their support for the opposition scheme.

The reason, it seems, is that this is the same Tony Abbott who was famously labelled a misogynist in federal parliament last year. And his reputation precedes him in this instance.

So rather than laud Mr Abbott’s support for working women – to be funded by a levy on Australia’s biggest companies – much of the commentary has instead focused on the inherent inequality of the scheme.

That’s certainly a valid criticism, of course, because paying wealthier women more in maternity entitlements than poorer women is some sort of reverse means testing.

But isn’t this a time when pragmatism should triumph over principle?

Under the Abbott scheme, even the lowest paid women in the country will receive more in maternity entitlements than under the Gillard scheme.

By playing the man and not the policy in this case, all women will end up the poorer.

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Farmers struggle after record dry spell

WIMMERA farmers are struggling as the region’s record dry spell continues through autumn.

In a statement released earlier this week, the Bureau of Meteorology said the seven months up to April 30 had been the driest on record for many agricultural regions in western Victoria.

South-eastern Australia continues to experience severe rain deficiencies and April rainfall was below average for most of Victoria.

Rainfall deficiencies in the Wimmera range from severe to lowest on record for the seven months.

Beulah farmer Ross Williams said he had never seen it this dry before.

“It is having a huge effect on us,” he said.

“We are thinking about changing to different crops and different varieties.

“We have dropped off canola and are doing a lot of thinking at the moment.”

Mr Williams said he had started dry sowing.

“I don’t really like doing it that way, but we had to do something,” he said.

“But if we don’t get rain soon, we won’t grow anything.

“I’m hoping someone has a nice crystal ball that can tell us what will happen.”

Goroke farmer Andrew Robertson said he had started dry sowing beans.

“It is often dry at this time of year, but this is a much longer dry period than we have had in the past,” he said.

“I would love to get some good rain so we can start throwing seeds into damp soil.”

Nhill farmer Andrew Colbert said this year’s start to the season was a familiar scenario for him.

“Nhill had a drought last year, so it is business as usual for us,” he said.

“We put all our crops in dry last year, so we are doing it that way again.

“We have actually had about 20 more millimetres of rain than this time last year.”

Department of Primary Industries agronomist Chris Sounness said the majority of Wimmera farmers had started dry sowing.

“There are different risks involved with dry sowing,” he said.

“If farmers sow before the break, the crop can come up more quickly and be more advanced at the end of the season,” he said.

“But there are risks of poor emergence and frost damage.”

He said some farmers were hesitant to sow canola.

“People are waiting to see what happens through May and will decide whether to sow it or not later on,” he said.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Stephen King said there wasn’t much rain expected for the Wimmera in the coming week.

“We have a band coming through on Sunday, but it will only bring about five millimetres of rain,” he said.

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Cloncurry on Virgin radar

EMERGING mining town Cloncurry is set to move one step closer to being linked to Brisbane via airline Virgin Australia.

Representatives from Virgin Australia will meet with industry heads and local businesses in Cloncurry next week to discuss the possibility of linking the town to Brisbane.

Cloncurry Shire Council CEO David Neeves said the council initiated the visit after meeting with Virgin Australia in Brisbane recently.

Mr Neeves said council’s role was to give the airline an opportunity to meet with businesses in the community that would be likely to commit to regular usage of a Brisbane to Cloncurry flight service.

“We met with Virgin representatives in Brisbane a few months ago and presented a number of letters from mining companies, doctors and other members of the community considered to be high air travel users,” he said.

“From those discussions they committed to come to Cloncurry and have a look and hopefully the numbers stack up.”

The representatives will be welcomed to Cloncurry with a tour of the current airport, a facility council plans to upgrade in line with growing passenger numbers.

“Last year we had 50,000 passengers through the airport but this year to date we’ve exceeded 80,000,” Mr Neeves said.

“With mines beginning construction soon we expect see that number exceeding 140,000 in the future.”

Council will also hold a luncheon and presentation afternoon for the visitors to provide an opportunity for local business, health professionals and mining industry representatives to discuss their transport needs with the airline.

“Virgin are wanting to understand the opportunities out here as part of their business planning,” Mr Neeves said.

“If we could get a direct Brisbane to Cloncurry service it would make the shire a very attractive place to live.”

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Park burn-off bureaucracy gone mad

CATTLE farmers bordering the Moorrinya National Park, 90km south of Torrens Creek, are fighting to stop Queensland Parks and Recreation from conducting a scheduled burn off next week.

Graziers watching their cattle struggle to survive in severe drought conditions have signed a petition to stop the burning and allow cattle onto the national park land, an opportunity afforded to other producers north of Hughenden and the Upper Burdekin in recent days.

John Glimore from Cranford Station, adjacent to the park, said an email notifying graziers of the scheduled burn-off added insult to injury.

“They haven’t given a definite date but the neighbours said they emailed them saying they’d burn it off next week,” he said.

“That’s called rubbing salt into the wound – they’re going to burn it off while hungry cattle watch from the other side of the fence.”

Mr Gilmore spoke at the Richmond Beef Crisis Summit on Tuesday, telling of the distress farmers faced every year watching good fodder on the parklands burn up.

While the petition to halt back-burning at Moorrinya circulated yesterday, two producers north of Hughenden had more reason to rejoice after the Newman Government accepted their requests to run cattle on Blackbraes Resources Reserve, 170km north of Hughenden.

National Parks Minister Steve Dickson said while grazing on national parks tenures remained prohibited under the Nature Conservation Act, other tenures may be made available for such use on some occasions.

“The reason these farmers require hardship grazing is because their situations are dire and urgent and accordingly the department agreed to make the property available for a short time,” he said.

“Wildfires late last year, exacerbated by prolonged drought conditions, have destroyed grazing fodder on pastoral holdings near Blackbraes Resources Reserve, north of Hughenden.

“This is not a solution which will always be available and will always be decided on a case-by-case basis, however I am glad to be able to offer help in this instance, when it’s needed most by Queensland farmers.”

Hughenden mayor Gregory Jones said allowing cattle to chew down over-grown grasses on national parks like Blackreas could actually remove the need for a burn-off.

“Normally they don’t look after the national parks so at least somebody is in there chewing the grass down and helping stop the fire hazard,” he said.

“It’s good to see they (the government) are using their brains a bit to use the cattle take care of the place.”

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