Bill guarantees referendum on recognising local councils

THE bill for the local government referendum may have passed, but debate about the vote will continue with both "yes" and "no" campaigns pushing their cases to the public.

Passing the Senate on Monday night, the bill will guarantee a referendum on recognising local councils in the constitution is held when voters take to the polls on September 14.

The Australian Local Government Association celebrated the majority support of the bill, despite eight senators voting against the bill.

ALGA president Felicity-ann Lewis said the vote was significant because it reinforced the level of federal bipartisan support for recognition of local government.

She said the history of such referenda showed bipartisan support was critical for a successful referendum.

Ms Lewis said that without direct commonwealth funding, local government needed to be recognised in the constitution.

"Without it, federal programs, such as Roads to Recovery, are at risk of legal challenge," she said.

But despite the wide support for the bill, and in addition to the eight senators who voted against it, 11 Coalition senators also abstained from the vote.

Citizens "no" case campaigner Julian Leeser said the abstentions showed equal funding should be given to both campaigns.

Under changes to referenda laws, the Gillard government will give the lion's share of $10.5 million campaign funding to the "yes" case, rather than equal share to both sides of the debate.

Mr Leeser said the government "struggled to get more than 60% of the senate voting for the referendum".

"Yet the 'yes' campaign gets 98% of the public funding available for this referendum," he said.

The Federal Government was encouraging all voters to vote "yes" at the referendum, after three previous failed referenda since federation.

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