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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2750


Senator REID(11.02) —We are discussing whether the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council Ordinance should be disallowed, under a motion by the Australian Democrats. A great deal has been said this morning about the history of self-government in the Australian Capital Territory. In a sense, it is relevant to the discussion but it has been discussed and there is no purpose in going over it. There is really no need for such an ordinance. If the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) wants an advisory council he can easily have one. He has appointed Mr Paul Whalan to his staff to advise on matters relating to the Australian Capital Territory. Undoubtedly, he is entitled to have advisers but he has sought to bring this forward in terms of an ordinance. There are perhaps two reasons why this would be so. One is to create the position of a president who would be able to represent the Minister at civil functions around the Territory which would relieve the Minister of that burden. The Minister also clearly sees this as an opportunity in the schedule to abolish the House of Assembly ordinance which, if not abolished, would require an election to be held for another House of Assembly.

The powers of the proposed Advisory Council are fairly limited in that its members will advise the Minister on any matter affecting the Territory which has been referred to them by the Minister. He may or may not make any referrals to the Council. The Minister is entitled to an advisory council if he wants one. It would have been a gross extravagance for him to have an elected Advisory Council. I will explain why in a minute. In clause 6 of the legislation the Minister seeks in addition to a president to have 12 councillors-that means 13 members. That is a gross indulgence and is a much larger Advisory Council that the Minister really needs or is entitled to. He is also making it much more structured than it should be by including a paragraph which says that there must be seven members present to provide a quorum. An advisory council to the Minister ought to be a much more informal gathering and have fewer members.

We also moved to disallow the clause relating to remuneration and allowances to enable us to say that we do not see the positions as being highly paid with large salaries. Obviously, there should be some form of honorarium for the President and perhaps a similar honorarium for councillors that is consistent with the work that they will be doing. These matters would have to be settled by the Remuneration Tribunal and submissions can be made to it. It is my intention to withdraw my motion for disallowance of the three sections to which I have referred. In relation to the Minister's response to those matters, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter which is dated 18 November 1986, addressed to Senator Lewis, which deals with those items.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Senator A. W. R. Lewis

Senator for Victoria

Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Senator Lewis

I refer to discussions which you and Senator Reid have had with my Senior Private Secretary about amendments to the proposed ACT Advisory Council Ordinance 1986.

I confirm that I am willing to amend the proposed Ordinance by

- deleting the number `12' in s.6 (1) (b) and

- deleting s.10 (3).

In relation to your proposal to delete s.8 (1) and s.8 (3) of the Ordinance relating to remuneration and allowances for Councillors, I confirm that in seeking a determination from the Remuneration Tribunal, I would be proposing that Councillors receive a level of remuneration in line with the work required of them. I am, however, looking to the President of the Council to fulfil a substantial civic role in addition to his other duties as a Councillor-a role which I expect will involve a much larger commitment of time than other Councillors. I would be proposing that the Remuneration Tribunal take this additional work load into account when deciding on an appropriate level of remuneration for the President.

I expect that in determining remuneration and allowances for Councillors, the Tribunal will have regard to the fact that unlike members of the former House of Assembly, Councillors will be appointed rather than elected and will not therefore have specific electoral responsibilities. It is, of course, open to you to make a submission to the Tribunal on the matter, should you so wish.

I should also add that under s.7 (8) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, either House of Parliament may disallow a determination of the Remuneration Tribunal.

I would propose to introduce the amendments to S.6 (1) (b) and S.10 (3) by means of an amending ordinance as soon as possible after the ACT Advisory Council Ordinance has become law.

Yours sincerely

GORDON SCHOLES


Senator REID —I have received a few letters from people who have raised the issues involved in this debate as to whether the Advisory Council should be elected and whether it should exist at all. A few have suggested that it would be quite wrong to vote out the legislation, which would mean that a House of Assembly would have to be re-elected. The one thing that is clear from these letters is that the people who have written all basically say that there should be a form of self-government in the Territory and that to return to an appointed Advisory Council is a retrograde step. I understand those arguments, but none of these proposals gives any form of representative government to the people of the Australian Capital Territory. The setting up of a House of Assembly, which is only another form of Advisory Council, does not get us anywhere towards self-government. I think that point needs to be made, as it was made by Senator Lewis in his remarks.

The House of Assembly previously appeared as though it were some form of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. The reason why it appeared so was that the members worked so hard and put so much effort into it. They were certainly an effective group in terms of electoral representation and dealing with electorate matters. They are being missed because of that. But they had no responsibility in the decisions that they made and they were not accountable for the proposals that they put forward. Another House of Assembly or an elected Advisory Council of the same kind will not advance the people of the Territory as far as real representation is concerned.

It is interesting to look at comments that have been made in the past. The following article appeared in the Canberra News:

The Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Bryant, will today unveil a plan to restructure the ACT Advisory Council.

Mr Bryant will put forward a proposal for a 15-man elected Advisory Council as an interim measure to any future self-government . . . The proposal is certain to have a stormy reception.

That article appeared on 14 March 1974. Madam Acting Deputy President, you will be interested to know that on the same day the merry-go-round in Civic was opened by the Minister for the Capital Territory. In a sense, nothing much has changed. As Senator Vigor mentioned earlier, we had an Advisory Council in 1930. I sometimes wonder whether we will ever have self-government. It has certainly been something that people have wanted for a long time. Mr Anthony, when he was Minister for the Interior, was committed to it. Mr Bryant and the Labor Government from 1972 to 1975 were committed to it. The Liberal Minister, Mr Staley, certainly was committed to it. The Labor Government, more recently, was unequivocally committed to it by the then Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Hayden, in May 1982. It was reiterated in the Governor-General's Speech in April 1983.

I sometimes wonder whether it is just too difficult and will never happen, or whether there is something within the system that precludes the evolution of a meaningful working form of self-government. The people need to know that we have no self-government, that we do not have any responsibility for the decisions that are made by the Minister. An Advisory Council, if elected, would be an expensive way of receiving advice. I certainly oppose this Advisory Council being elected. As I said, the Minister is entitled to appoint it if he thinks it will be of any benefit to him. I strongly suspect that he may find that he would have been better off without it. In fact, he is the person who will make the decisions. The Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), in speaking for the Minister for Territories, said that without it everything would be in the hands of the Minister. I would say that with it, everything is in the hands of the Minister, because the Advisory Council will not have any powers and the Minister certainly does not have to take its advice, in any event. So we have not really gone forward.

In not supporting the disallowance, we merely say that the Minister is entitled to his Advisory Council if he wants it. We are not in any way suggesting that it is any form of self-government. We also say that the restoration of the old House of Assembly is not any form of self-government or representative government. We think that this should stand, if that is what the Government wants, and that is our proposal. Subsequently, I will withdraw the motion for disallowance that I have moved, for the reasons that I have indicated.