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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 4785

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (10:17): I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Common­wealth) Bill 2010. Obviously, I rise as a senator from what is clearly Australia's smallest state, but a state that has had responsible government for over 150 years and one that is fiercely attached to its democratic institutions. Tasmania is also a place with a profound sense of identity—an island which has a particular tradition, a unique history and strong sense of commun­ity. Tasmania is a special place, a place with which I am deeply connected, and a place to which as a citizen—as a Tasmanian—I feel a sense of belonging. I belong to Tasmania. And Tasmania belongs to those communities who have had the honour of calling themselves Tasmanians.

We have the oft-remarked right of being well represented in this place, a right that allows our members of parliament to connect with our constituents at a very close level. At a state level, we have a particular electoral system, one which I know the other Tasmanian senators in this place know very well. It is the Hare-Clark system—shared with one of the territories with which this bill is concerned—which gives people the oppor­tunity to choose from amongst a wide range of candidates to find the one who best reflects their views and by whom they want to be represented. If those views are not carried to the parliament and reflected in the laws of the state, then the representative will be held to account at the next election. This is a very basic expectation of a democracy. And it is a very basic conclusion of the kind of belonging about which I spoke a moment ago. When one of those elements is not present in a system of governance, then it is difficult to call that system fully democratic. It is difficult to say that connection between a people and their place has been respected.

The way the law operates at the moment does not respect the important principle that people should be able to elect people to represent them, and that those represent­atives should have the capacity to deliver on the promises that they make and the values they espouse. This bill is about enabling the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to shape their own futures in a more democratic way. Both territories have proven themselves over a long period of time to be more than capable of governing them­selves in a responsible way, in the same web of interdependency between the levels of government in which the states participate. In fact, the ACT especially has led the way on a number of issues, and I want to take a moment to reflect on the very positive legacy left by Jon Stanhope and, in doing that, reject the characterisation of him made earlier in this place by Senator Brandis. Under Jon Stanhope's leadership, and importantly reflecting the values of the people of the ACT, his government led the nation on issues of rights, an important example of which is the Human Rights Charter.

This bill does not remove the interdepend­ency and the checks and balances we expect in a federal and a national democracy. Under this bill, there remains parliamentary over­sight of the territories, and I am sure that is an issue about which future debates will rage. But it is notable that this bill is relative­ly conservative in that sense. It is not a wide-ranging constitutional reform. It is about honouring the principles of democracy that we have already declared in this place, some time ago, and the will of territorians as reflected in their legislative assemblies. And when there is a conflict between those wills, or if there is a need to act separately to territorial legislators, we will have a debate in this place, as we should. We should have to put our case in detail on particular issues. We should have to respect that the destiny of the territory should be up to the territories unless we can justify intervention.

No doubt governance in this country is a complex matter and the issues involved are complex. We have international obligations and we have national priorities. We have differing levels of capacity in our different institutions. But what should underpin all of that is an understanding that the will of the people should be respected wherever it is most clearly expressed. I believe, in this case, that this means we should respect the laws enacted by our territorial assemblies. As we are aware, these territories were created by acts of this parliament. Their legislatures are rightly subject to the deliberations of this parliament, not executive government. It is important that the Commonwealth parlia­ment enable the ACT and Northern Territory legislative assemblies to be independent, to be responsible and to be accountable to their citizens. That is what I believe this parlia­ment is for and what Australians expect. Australians do not expect people elected for a different role to be able to override the will of the territories lightly.