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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12087


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (18:20): I move the amendment circulated in my name:

Omit all words after “That”, substitute: “the House declines to give the bill a second reading, and:

(1) notes the comments of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on the bill that ‘an approach which fails to look at the broad range of issues affecting the autonomy of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory may not be the most appropriate way of addressing outstanding self-determination matters in those territories, and may not ultimately represent the most considered solution. The committee believes that a systematic and holistic review of self-government arrangements in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory holds merit, and would help to address some of the specific issues raised during this inquiry.’;

(2) affirms that the process by which the Australian territories move towards greater legislative independence, consistent with the overall framework of the Australian Federation, should continue, but that a more systematic and comprehensive approach is to be preferred; and

(3) calls for a full review of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 in lieu of piecemeal amendments to that Act.”

I will return to that in a moment. The question that I ask today when looking at the Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment of Laws) Bill 2011 is: what are the Australian Greens seeking to address with the progression of this bill?

We heard the member for Canberra also wanting to know what the Greens motivation was. Is it in fact for the betterment of Territorian self-government prospects, or for some other agenda to which we are not privy? The Greens appear to be the friends of the territories; they appear on the surface to care about the rights of the territories; and they appear to understand the need to develop further and champion regional autonomy, autonomy which the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory desire. This disallowance bill is brought forward to prevent the ACT and the Northern Territory from being pushed around by ministers in a federal government. This bill gives expression presumably to the principles of self-determination which were intrinsic in the self-government acts of 1970 and 1980.

Consideration of this bill in my view opens the door for constitutional concern, particularly as the bill gives greater legislative powers to territories beyond those currently enjoyed by the states. In fact, as stated by my colleague Senator Scullion in the other place, the bill as it stands would allow a territory parliament to pass any law, including a law in the area that is the responsibility of the Commonwealth as defined in section 51 of the Australian Constitution. This action would result in no immediate avenues to address this.

The motives of Senator Bob Brown and the Greens are definitely unclear. I agree with the commentary by my colleague in the other place Senator Humphries: something does not quite sit right with Senator Bob Brown being the champion of the second tier of government in this country. I remember growing up and watching Bob Brown in the 1980s campaigning against the Tasmanian government who were trying to build a dam. Dr Brown, as he was known then, argued that the conflict over the dam being built in Tasmania should be resolved by the federal government. He wanted the then federal government to interfere and intervene in the affairs of self-governing Tasmania. Where were Senator Bob Brown's champion views of the rights of the territory or state governments back then? Some may suggest that perhaps Senator Bob Brown feels differently about the territories than he felt about Tasmania back in the 1980s. Perhaps, now that he sits in the federal parliament, he has a different view; I am not convinced that that is the case either.

Senator Brown's record with respect to the territories has not really been consistent. I refer to the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999, which Senator Bob Brown introduced to override the rights of self-governing Northern Territory to legislate in favour of mandatory sentencing for certain people who commit crimes. Senator Brown was unhappy with that act of self-governance by the Northern Territory and was quite comfortable in 1999 to introduce legislation to override the rights of the Northern Territory.

We can with some measure anticipate what the Greens are going to say: 'Our actions were justified in intervening in the affairs of the Northern Territory because there were fundamental human rights issues that impacted Australia's international obligations under treaties; therefore, it was okay to intervene in Northern Territory affairs on that occasion.' Unfortunately, intervention in the affairs of self-governing states or territories by Senator Brown does not end there.

In 2003 Senator Brown again promoted intervention in territory rights, on this occasion in the ACT, with a motion of disallowance. As stated by my colleague Senator Humphries, back in 2003 Senator Brown was quite happy to move a motion of disallowance to prevent a certain road project proceeding in the Australian Capital Territory—the widening of the Gungahlin Drive extension—despite the project being supported by the then ACT government. Senator Brown did not approve of the building of that road. He did not like the idea of that road being built and he did not want the ACT to make its own decision about the road. He knew better. He would bring the weight of the federal parliament down on the ACT and prevent the building of that road.

I refer again to the Northern Territory and the current drive by the Greens to quarantine commercial and recreational fisheries. If the Greens were to have their way, they would create vast marine sanctuaries across the broad northern Australian coastline. These sanctuaries in effect would stop the activities of the local Northern Territory commercial fishing industry and recreational fishing, not to mention infuriating the one-third of Top Enders who proudly claim, 'We own a boat and we vote.'

Senator Brown has no credibility on such issues. Senator Brown has been no friend to territory autonomy. 'Opportunistic' might be a better descriptor. He is happy to champion the rights of Territorians to legislate and maintain their own governance when he agrees with what they propose. But then he is only too happy to trash territory rights when it is his belief that his interests are not being served.

There is a convention in federal parliament that the Commonwealth does not interfere with the legislation of a territory parliament where the legislation is consistent with the powers of a state parliament. A well-known exception was when the federal parliament overturned the Northern Territory euthanasia laws. Euthanasia is an area of legislation or issue that remains the responsibility of the states under the Constitution. Now under this bill the power of the federal parliament to undertake similar actions in the future is maintained. So, if this bill is really all about preventing federal intervention in the legislative powers of the territories, why was this issue not included in the bill?

The coalition is not going to play along with the cynical game that the Australian Greens are promoting with this sudden interest in the governance practices of the territories. There are serious issues about the form and the effectiveness of self-government. These are real issues which deserve systematic and careful examination by the federal parliament; not a piecemeal approach to legislative design based more upon political purposes than on the advance of a systematic examination of what is wrong and what needs to be fixed about the institution of self- government in the Northern Territory and the ACT. This bill does not address those fundamental issues. This bill is opportunistic and designed to portray the Greens in the most favourable electoral light; this is not an attempt to fix what I think we all know needs to be addressed.

I have moved a second reading amendment which acknowledges the findings of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee which state that there are issues which must be addressed and which this legislation does not address. The second reading amendment affirms the process by which the states and territories can move towards greater legislative independence consistent with the framework of the Australian Federation. In the case of the Northern Territory that may well include a move towards statehood. This is one topic most Territorians are passionate about. In the 1990s, the movement toward statehood was strong. It was supported by the coalition government of the day, led by Mr Howard. However, history shows this question was ultimately defeated. The move toward statehood has been gaining strength in the Northern Territory. We are not quite there and further work is required. But I believe within the next few years this question will be asked again and I am confident we will get statehood. The ACT may not be looking at statehood, particularly due to its position constitutionally, but certainly the ACT's institution of self-government is in need of an overhaul. It is now more than 22 years old.

The piecemeal approach taken by this bill is not a satisfactory solution to the problem. I have heard the support of the Labor Party for this bill. I note that there is a large measure of disparagement in their position. It was only three years ago that the Labor Party was perfectly content to support the decision of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to intervene, using the disallowance power to overrule the then proposed resurgence of civil union legislation in the ACT—legislation which had been proposed during the Howard government and which the ACT government came back to propose again when the Rudd government was elected. Of course the Rudd government rejected that suggestion.

I have lived in the Northern Territory all of my life. I engage with my electorate, I listen to their views and I represent them to the best of my ability. I can guarantee you that they do not want further meddling by federal politicians, particularly with the institution of self-government, not without a systematic and broad review of all the processes. Like my colleague Senator Scullion, I do not seek greater rights for the Northern Territory than the states have; I simply seek equal rights. I know Northern Territorians would welcome the opportunity to engage in a consultative process designed to comprehensively examine the status of self-government. That is by far the better approach, not the approach inherent in this piecemeal legislation that could potentially impact on any future statehood aspirations of the Northern Territory.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Dutton: I second the amendment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Solomon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.