A referendum to recognise local government in the constitution has been put on ice, disappointing those who hoped an historic change for local councils was near.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it is regrettable his new election date of September 7 means the local government referendum - slated for September 14 - will be postponed.

"I've been a long-term supporter of constitutional recognition for local government, but I think we're going to have to look at that in the next term," he told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

A bill to hold the referendum cleared parliament on June 24.

But electoral and constitutional laws meant the earliest it could be held alongside a federal election was September 14, the polling day set by dumped former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Regional Australia Minister Catherine King said the government remained committed to the constitutional recognition of local government and would work towards a new date giving voters more time to consider it.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott rejected Mr Rudd's charge that the coalition was to blame for the delay, adding they were happy to support the cause if it was handled properly.

"This government mishandled it from start to finish," he told reporters.

Only seven coalition senators broke party ranks and voted against the referendum but Mr Abbott drew criticism for subsequently encouraging people to vote "no" if they didn't understand the changes.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce, a vocal supporter of the referendum, said he'd been promised by Simon Crean, Anthony Albanese and Catherine King - the three Labor MPs to hold the Regional Australia portfolio this year - that they supported the vote.

"But, alas, today we find that the whole ceremony was a sham," he said, adding local government had lost all trust in Labor.

The Australian Local Government Association said much hard work and campaign planning had begun, and they hoped their efforts weren't in vain.

Queensland councils were less forgiving, accusing Mr Rudd of an act of political expediency by pulling out the rug when support for change was high.

"Timing was not an issue," president of the Local Government Association of Queensland Margaret de Wit said.

"Mr Rudd could have gone ahead with this referendum if he wanted to."