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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 4782

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (10:07): I move the second reading amendment standing in my name:

Omit all words after "That", substitute:

   "the Senate declines to consider the bill further, and:   (a)   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 ACT and the NT 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 ACT and the NT holds merit, and would help to address some of the specific issues raised during this inquiry.";   (b)   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   (c)   calls for a full review of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 in lieu of piecemeal amendments to that Act".

I will come back to speak about that a little more later. The question that I ask today in looking at the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallow­ance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010 that Senator Bob Brown has put before the chamber is: what garments does that ultimate populist, Senator Brown, parade around in the Senate today? He appears to be wearing the clothes of the friend of the territories—the man who cares deeply about territorians and their rights to make decisions for themselves, the man who is the champion of regional autonomy, the man who stands up for Canberra against the federal government. This disallowance bill is brought forward to prevent the ACT, the Northern Territory or Norfolk Island being pushed around by ministers in a federal government. This bill gives expression, presumably, to ideals of self-determination which were inherent in the self-government acts of the 1970s and 1980s.

There is something about that image of Senator Bob Brown today which does not seem quite right. Something does not quite gel about Senator Brown as the champion of the second tier of government in this country. Something is more akin to a masquerade than to reality, because I recall a very differently attired Bob Brown not all that long ago. I recall that Dr Bob Brown, as he then was, came to national attention in the 1980s as the scourge of the Tasmanian government that wanted to build a certain dam, and Dr Brown argued that the conflict over the dam to be built in Tasmania should be resolved in a certain way. How did he want that resolved? He wanted it resolved by the federal government interfering and inter­vening in the affairs of the self-governing Tasmanian polity to stop the building of that dam. Where were the rights of territory or state governments at that stage of Senator Brown's career?

People might say that perhaps Senator Brown today feels differently about the territories than he felt about Tasmania back in the 1980s. He is now a member of parliament; perhaps he has a different view. I am not sure that that is the case either. Senator Brown's record with respect to the territories is not a lot better. I look at Senator Brown's bill, the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999, which was introduced by Senator Brown to override the rights of the self-governing Northern Territory to legislate in favour of mandatory sentences for certain people committing crimes. Senator Brown was unhappy with that and was quite comfortable in 1999 to introduce legislation to override the rights of the Northern Territory to legislate in that way. I have had this debate with Senator Brown before and I know what he is going to say. He is going to say, 'We were justified in intervening in the affairs of the Northern Territory at that time because we were dealing with a fundamental human rights matter which cut across Australia's international obligations under treaties; therefore, despite the principle which I strongly adhere to being violated, it was okay to intervene in the Northern Territory on that occasion.'

Unfortunately, Senator Brown's record of intervention in the affairs of self-governing states or territories does not end there, because in 2003 Senator Brown returned to this issue with a motion of disallowance. Bear in mind that he is now moving a bill in the Senate to stop disallowance of territory legislation. Back in 2003 Senator Brown was quite happy to move a motion of disallow­ance in this place to prevent a certain road project proceeding in the Australian Capital Territory, the widening of the Gungahlin Drive extension, despite the fact that it was supported by the then territory government, because Senator Brown did not approve of the building of that road. He did not like the idea of that road being built and did he want the territory to make its own decision about that at that stage? No, he did not. He knew better. He would bring the might of the federal parliament down on the ACT and prevent the building of that road.

Senator Brown has no credibility on such issues. Senator Brown is no friend of territory autonomy. He is in this respect an opportunist, happy to champion the rights of territorians to legislate when he agrees with what they propose to do with that power and equally happy to trash territory rights when he believes that his interests are not being served. You may say that today he is not talking about the right to interfere or not; he is talking about the way that you interfere. At the end of the day, Senator Brown, it does not really make much difference. If you are going to do somebody over, the way in which you do it does not have as much bearing on the matter as the fact that you are doing them over in the first place.

The coalition is not going to play along with the cynical game that Senator Brown is playing here today. There are serious issues about the form and the effectiveness of self-government, certainly in the ACT, and I suspect my colleague Senator Scullion—and we have heard from Senator Crossin already—will flag questions about the effectiveness of self-government arrange­ments in the Northern Territory. Those are real issues which deserve systematic, careful examination by the federal parliament, not piecemeal legislation designed more for political purposes than to advance a system­atic examination of what is wrong and what needs to be fixed about the institution of self-government in those places. This bill does not address those fundamental issues, issues that Senator Crossin talked about that I know vex Senator Scullion. This bill is an oppor­tunistic intervention to clothe the Greens in the most favourable electoral light, not an attempt to fix what I think we all know needs to be addressed.

I have moved a second reading amendment which first of all acknowledges the findings of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that there are issues which simply have to be addressed and which this legislation does not address. The second reading amendment affirms the process by which the states and territories move towards greater legislative independence consistent with the framework of Australian Federation. In the case of the Northern Territory, that may well include statehood within a few years. That is probably not the case for the ACT, but certainly the ACT's need to overhaul the institution of self-government, which is now more than 22 years old, is a real and urgent need and, again, the piecemeal approach taken by this legislation is not a satisfactory solution to that problem. The amendment calls for a full review of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act. If a colleague, particularly Senator Scullion, supports the view that the Northern Territory should also be included in such a review, I am very happy for that to occur. Indeed I would foreshadow that in the next few sitting days Senator Scullion and I will put forward a matter for the Senate to consider with respect to the question of the structure and future of self-government in the Northern Territory and the ACT.

I hear the support of the Labor Party for this bill and I note that there is a pretty large measure of cynicism in that position as well. I recall 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, through the disallowance power, to overrule the then-proposed resurgence of civil unions 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 at that stage rebuffed that suggestion very clearly, and the senators who today rise to tell us what a wonderful idea this bill is were perfectly happy to use that power back in 2008.

Senator McLucas: Not true, Gary.

Senator Humphries: It is true.

Senator McLucas: No, it's not true.

Senator HUMPHRIES: If you want, Senator McLucas, I will table the press statement that was made at that stage. You did not use the power because the ACT government backed down. You did not carry it through but you threatened to use it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator, through the chair, please.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Yes, Mr Deputy President. Let us not be holier than thou. When it suited your purposes you were quite prepared to use this power in this way. This is a process bill. It is about how decisions are made affecting the powers of territories. It is not a substantive bill about those powers, and those issues do need to be addressed and in other ways they will be addressed. I would prefer that they were addressed through a comprehensive review of the status of self-government, not through some piecemeal approach. That is the appropriate way to deal with this. I represent the ACT. I understand what I think the people of this territory aspire to and want. I do not think they want the institution of self-government to be toyed with by federal politicians. They want these issues to be dealt with systematically and comprehensively. I believe the citizens of this territory would welcome an opportunity to engage in a full, comprehensive consult­ative process to examine the status of self-government here. That is the better approach, not the approach inherent in this very piecemeal piece of legislation.