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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 4791

Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (10:46): I rise as the responsible minister, representing the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, Mr Crean, to contribute to the debate on behalf of the government. On 4 May 2011, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee reported back to the Senate on its inquiry into the Australian Capital Territory Self-Government) Amendment (Disallow­ance and Amendment Power of the Comm­onwealth) Bill 2010, together with proposed amendments applying to the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island.

The bill and amendments circulated by the Greens sought to abolish the power of the Governor-General to disallow or recommend amendments to territory legislation by repealing section 35 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988, section 9 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 and section 23 of the Norfolk Island Act 1979. That is what this bill is about. It is moved by the Greens to abolish the power of the Governor-General to disallow or recommend amendments to territory legislation. It is not about a whole range of other issues, some of which have been touched on.

The committee report contained two recommendations. The first recommendation of the committee is that the Senate pass the disallowance bill subject to the following amendments: firstly, the disallowance bill apply only to the ACT and the Northern Territory; secondly, the removal of referen­ces in clause 4 of the bill that purport to provide relevant territory legislatures with exclusive legislative authority and responsi­bility for making laws; and, thirdly, clause 4 be further amended to more accurately reflect the current power of the Governor-General to recommend amendments to territory laws. The second recommendation is that Norfolk Island be excluded from the operation of the disallowance bill until further evidence is provided on the need for change in that jurisdiction.

The government agrees with the object­ives of this bill in removing the power of the federal executive to override legislation in the ACT and the Northern Territory. However, given the technical amendments required, the government has circulated its own amendments to this bill. Again, I emphasise that this bill is about removing the power of the federal executive to override legislation in the ACT and the Northern Territory. The issues that have been referred to—whether it is euthanasia or same sex marriage—are determined and governed by other legislation of the Commonwealth. Those issues are not what this legislation is about.

The amendments will support the repeal of section 35 of the Commonwealth Austra­lian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and section 9 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 and incorporate the committee's suggested amendments. The government agrees with recommendation 2 of the committee that Norfolk Island should be excluded from the operation of the disallowance bill, given the differences between Norfolk Island and other self-governing territories. The recent passage of the Territories Law Reform Act 2010 also provides the Commonwealth with increased oversight and scrutiny of Norfolk Island legislation to ensure it is consistent with the national interest. It would therefore be inconsistent for the disallowance bill to apply to Norfolk Island.

The bill before the Senate today, with amendments that I have outlined, will remove the ability of the executive govern­ment to veto legislation enacted by the ACT and the Northern Territory legislatures. As these acts stand, the executive has the power to override the decision of the democratically elected legislatures of the ACT and the Northern Territory. This bill goes to the rights of those in the territories to determine the good governance of the communities in which they live. The architects of the Constitution predicted that there may be times when the national interest must be considered when looking at territory laws. That is why they drafted section 122 that allows the parliament, not exclusively the executive, to make laws for the government of any territory. As I have already said, this parliament still will have a right to determine laws in respect to the territories. This legislation that we are considering is about removing the power of the executive but not this parliament. For all these reasons, the government will support the passage of the bill with these amendments.

A second reading amendment has been moved by Senator Humphries. The govern­ment will not be supporting the amendment. I will make a couple of brief remarks as to why we will not be supporting it. Firstly, the issues raised in the amendment have been canvassed in the Senate inquiry into the bill. The committee concluded—in its majority report, at least—that the bill would improve the democratic rights of the people of the ACT and the Northern Territory and the passage of the bill would provide just recognition of the maturity and capacity of the ACT and Northern Territory legislative assemblies since they attained self-government.

The Australian government has already indicated to the ACT government that it would welcome a review of the ACT (Self-Government) Act. Such a review should be driven by the ACT government and its citizens, and the Australian government would welcome considering such a review. The timing of a comprehensive review should not delay the implementation of the practical democratic benefits provided by this bill.

I note that both the ACT and Northern Territory Chief Ministers are on the record—or at least, in the case of the ACT, the previous Chief Minister; I am not aware of anything on the record from the current Chief Minister—as supporting the bill. For those reasons, the government will not support the second reading amendment.