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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1663


Mr SCHOLES (Minister for Territories)(4.25) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the National Capital Development Commission Act 1957 to modernise the structure of the Commission and make it more accountable and responsive to both the Government and the Australian Capital Territory community. The Bill seeks to do this by replacing the Commission's corporation sole with a board of seven commissioners and by inserting a ministerial power of direction clause.

The amendments proposed in this Bill arise out of the report of the Committee of Review of the role and functions of the National Capital Development Commission-known as the White Committee-which was tabled on 21 September 1983. That report found that the National Capital Development Commission, as established in 1957, had been an outstanding success in transforming what was then described as a 'bush capital' into the national capital it is today. It did, however, recommend that a community of a quarter of a million required different and more democratic structures then were necessary in 1957 and proposed a representative board to replace the existing Commission, to balance national and territorial interests.

The Government believes that decisions on most of the Committee's recommendations should be made in the context of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. The particular matters covered by this Bill are framed in such a way as to be compatible with future decisions on self-government, and should therefore proceed now. Further, a restructured Commission will facilitate speedy action on the remaining recommendations once the final decisions on self-government have been taken.

Under the proposed amendments, the Commission's corporation sole will be replaced by a seven-member board, comprising three full time and four part time members. Of these, at least two will be drawn from the local community and at least one from outside the Australian Capital Territory. The Government considers a more broadly based structure than that recommended by the White Committee is appropriate.

Currently, unresolved policy disputes between the Commission and the Minister are referred to the Governor-General-in-Council for resolution. Notwithstanding that there has been only one such situation in the past 25 years, it is a cumbersome procedure for the resolution of disputes and conflicts with the Government's policies on the role and operations of Commonwealth statutory authorities and the provision of adequate accountability and ministerial oversight. Consequently, this Bill seeks to amend the Act to include a ministerial power of direction. However, the Government rejects the White Committee's recommendation for use of the 'Commonwealth Bank model' of policy direction as an appropriate mechanism for the resolution of disputes. That model would be even more cumbersome than the present power, and would be inconsistent with practice elsewhere.

This Bill provides that directions would be issued by the Minister only after consultations between the Minister and the Commission had failed to resolve a particular matter and would be published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette and, subsequently, in the Commission's annual report. Such powers of direction are a feature of the enabling legislation of other statutory authorities such as Telecom Australia and the Parliament House Construction Authority. It is anticipated that, as in the past, such disputes would be rare indeed.

The House will be aware that last year the Government made an in-principle decision on self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. The Government will be considering a more detailed proposal shortly. The changes proposed in this Bill are consistent with any move to self-government, particularly in terms of a more broadly based decision making structure for the Commission. The Bill has no financial impact. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Tuckey) adjourned.