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Minister retreats from 'referendum' rhetoric amid backlash

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Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll says he’ll forge ahead with pushing contentious rate-capping legislation through state parliament, regardless of the outcomes of November’s local government elections that he declared a “referendum” on the issue.

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Knoll today appeared to distance himself from yesterday’s rhetoric, when he told News Corp the upcoming council elections “should be a referendum on rate-capping” and urged ratepayers “to support candidates that support” the Marshall Government’s policy.

Today though, asked whether he would await the outcome of the November “referendum” before forging ahead with his legislation, he said: “No.”

He now says rate-capping should be “a central issue” – but not the only one – for council voters, arguing: “People are going to have to weigh up a whole series of considerations.”

Knoll told InDaily today that candidates “who believe in rate-capping should stand up and say so” but declared “the legislation is going ahead” regardless.

Despite declaring the election as a “referendum” on his policy, he said the poll and the passage of the bill were “two separate issues”.

“One is getting the bill through the upper house, [the other] is a local government sector that’s willing to embrace rate-capping”.

“It’s about a mindset where councils are willing to look and find better ways of doing things,” he said.

“This is about helping to change the minds of council chambers to better reflect what their rate-payer base is saying.”

The LGA has already declared it is “committed to working with the state government and the parliament to make changes and improvements in our sector”.

Knoll insists there’s “no formal movement” of Liberal-backed candidates campaigning on the rate-capping issue for local government elections.

“I’d encourage any candidate – Liberal, Labor, Green or Xenophon – if they want to run on a platform of rate capping, I’d encourage them to do it,” he said.

He said his comments were “not about timing”, but “about a mindset”, with the Government hoping almost universal council opposition to the Liberal bill will be offset with the election of candidates who are pro-rate capping.

One of those could be Nkweto Nkamba, a Parks Ward Candidate for Port Adelaide-Enfield council and, ironically, an ALP member.

Nkamba posted a video to his official Facebook page this week declaring his support for “rate capping and accountable spending by council to ease off financial pressures on our councils”.

He is a former Family First member who stood against Labor stalwart Michael Atkinson in Croydon, but has since re-joined the ALP – with Atkinson’s support.

He courted publicity in 2014 with an election slogan that urged residents to “vote for the black guy”.

Nkamba told InDaily he had put out a survey to residents and was awaiting responses, but that he was personally “pro rate-capping”.

“There’s a possibility of councils hiking rates more than they should… in general, I’m a firm believer in having caps or a regulatory body that sets things like rates,” he said.

“But if my feedback from the residents is [against] then at the end of the day I’d go with my feedback.

“Really my position will be firmly based on what I get back from that.”

Labor – whose support would allow the Liberal bill to pass when parliament resumes next month – is yet to formalise its position, which Nkamba says “indicates there’s merit on both sides”.

“At the end of the day my position is to serve my community… as much as I believe in Labor values, I wouldn’t do something when I’m getting overwhelming feedback from residents that they’d rather something else.”

SA Best MLC, Frank Pangallo – a staunch opponent of rate-capping – hit out at Knoll for weighing into council elections, accusing him of “an outrageous attack on the independence of local government”.

“Never in my life have I seen a minister openly declare war on an area of his responsibility simply because they don’t agree with his party’s policy on council rate-capping, which is a proven failure interstate,” Pangallo said in a statement.

“He is attempting to interfere with the independence of election voting processes by inciting some kind of ratepayer revolt to justify his position.”

LGA President Sue Clearihan told stakeholders today it was “very disappointing to hear the Minister advocate for party politics and interference in the democratic election process of an independent sphere of government”.

“There is no factual evidence to support the government’s push for legislated rate-capping,” she said.

“The minister is encouraging people to nominate for council to represent a Liberal Party policy that would have a detrimental effect on their community.”

Knoll said his next move “to a certain degree depends on Labor”.

“If they’re on board, happy families – we put it through [when parliament resumes]… if not, we’ll seek to negotiate,” he said.

It’s understood Labor has scheduled a caucus meeting at the end of the month at which policy issues – including rate-capping – will be resolved.

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