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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1114

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (9:08): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I introduce the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act Amendment Bill 2013.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act 1988 to grant the ACT Legislative Assembly the power to determine its own numbers without reference to the Commonwealth.

Under the current act, the process to change the number of members of the ACT Legislative Assembly requires a resolution to be passed by that assembly, then regulations to be made by the Commonwealth to change the size of the assembly and then acceptance, by the assembly, of the regulation. This bill grants the assembly the power to independently determine and amend its own numbers and removes a complex, untimely and unnecessary process.

The Centenary of Canberra this year presents us with timely opportunity to reflect on our national capital and all it has achieved over the past 100 years.

Since 1913, this city has not only grown as the nation's capital, but as a city state and a home to over 300,000 people. Following the granting of self-government 25 years ago, the ACT has grown into a fully functional, self-governing territory. It has a vibrant and engaged community and a legislative assembly that is strong, mature and representative of that community.

So, this bill acknowledges the capacity of the ACT to run its own affairs, and provides it the power to determine the number of members it requires to do so in the legislative assembly.

So it is clear, this bill does not change the size of the assembly. It simply amends the mechanism by which the size of the assembly can be changed by removing the Commonwealth’s role in the process of approving the amendments to the size of the assembly, and vesting this power back with the assembly. Appropriately, the bill incorporates a requirement for any change to the size of the assembly to be passed by a two-thirds majority of members. By promoting the need for bipartisan support for such changes to the governance of the territory, a safeguard is present, protecting our democratic traditions.

Questions about the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly and the datedness of a mature parliament relying on another parliament to determine its size have been raised on multiple occasions. Only last year the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure conducted a review of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act. The committee’s report, released in August recommended amending the act to allow for the legislative assembly to determine its size without reference to the Commonwealth.

This is not only a recommendation of the ACT Assembly.

In his 2011 review of the relationship between the Commonwealth and the ACT, entitled Canberra: a capital place, Dr Allan Hawke AC, provided advice to this government on how to find the right balance of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the ACT government.

In response to that review this government and the ACT agreed to work collaboratively to:

improve the structure and expression of matters of national significance;

simplify the capital’s planning system;

reduce the overlap and duplication by better alignment of land management and planning responsibilities;

by clarifying the National Capital Authority's role in the promotion of the capital; and

to take account of both local and national interest through the appointment of an ACT Government nominee from the Canberra community to the board of the National Capital Authority.

I am pleased to report to the House that all these initiatives are underway.

We also considered the gravity of Dr Hawke’s discussion on political representation of the territory and the size of the assembly.

Whilst his review did not make a specific recommendation around the size, because it was outside his terms of reference, he did make it clear:

In light of the importance of robust and accountable democratic processes in the ACT—characterised by high standards of parliamentary debate, a legislative program covering a range of complex issues, and an active Assembly Committee process—and the significant under-representation of the citizens of the ACT, there is an overwhelming case for increasing the size of the Assembly.

So, this government is responding to this additional challenge in Dr Hawke’s 2011 report.

The reasons for pursuing this bill are clear and sound.

It is appropriate. The ACT Legislative Assembly is a mature parliament. It is appropriate it should assume responsibility for determining the number of members needed to ensure its efficient functioning and the mechanism with which the size of the assembly is altered.

The ACT Legislative Assembly is capable and ready. The passage of the bill would provide just recognition of the maturity and capacity that the legislative assembly has demonstrated since it attained self-government. It is a vote of confidence in the capacity of the ACT to manage its own affairs and its governance arrangements.

Finally, it simplifies what is currently a very complex process. The bill reduces administrative effort and it streamlines the process to effect change in the numbers of the assembly.

So in this centenary year, it is both timely and appropriate for the Commonwealth to make this simple yet enduring change for the future of the ACT—for its people and for democracy as a whole. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.