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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 977

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Science and Small Business and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (10.05 p.m.) —I want to make a couple of brief remarks about both amendments. We have now had two general elections for the ACT assembly. During that period there have been two different governments in power in various combinations in the ACT assembly. Whatever the views of the national parliament are about the governmental structure of the ACT, it is now well accepted that self-government is here to stay, although there was considerable controversy some five or six years ago when it was first proposed.

  We all know that in the first election some very odd people got elected on the basis of `No self-government for the ACT' and then in the period afterwards joined coalition governments to become part of the government of the ACT. I believe that one of the most breathtaking moves one can make is to oppose self-government, get elected on that basis and then join the government whose establishment one has opposed.

Senator Panizza —It might have been part of the plan.

Senator SCHACHT —It might have been part of the plan. We recognise that some of those people who were elected at the first election were, to say the least, a little bizarre in their political philosophy. But following the second election most of them have now gone. There is a stable government in the ACT, though it is a minority government. The government believes it would be very odd to say that the ACT assembly should not have the powers that are possessed by every other federal and state government and the other territory government of Australia—that is, the Northern Territory government. I refer to the absolute power of those governments to decide their own numbers.

  Since the Northern Territory got self-government in the mid-1970s it has increased the size of the Northern Territory assembly. That has had more to do with trying to preserve some seats. But it is one vote one value by and large in the Northern Territory and the size of that parliament has been increased. The average enrolment in the Northern Territory is still only about 2,500 to 3,000 electors per member of parliament per constituency. Members of parliament who represent such small numbers get paid full parliamentary salaries for a full-time job.

  In the ACT, the 17 members represent individually a much larger proportion per elected member than is the case in the Northern Territory assembly. Therefore, it is very odd to say to the ACT government representatives, `After two elections and having established self-government, we still cannot trust you to make a decision about the members of parliament that you wish to have'.

  It is quite clear to the government that these amendments—that foreshadowed by Senator Ian Macdonald and those moved by Senator Bell—deal more with the constituencies of their own political parties in the ACT than about any power that could go to the dominating political force in the ACT, which is the Australian Labor Party. So I do not think either Senator Bell or Senator Ian Macdonald have put forward their views based on totally altruistic reasons. They are more to do with the internal machinations and politics of the parties they represent in the ACT assembly.

  Therefore, the government will oppose these amendments. We think it is unreasonable to put something on the ACT that is put on no other parliament in Australia, including the Northern Territory assembly, which represents a lot fewer people, because of its smaller population, than does the ACT assembly. Therefore, we believe that the amendments are unreasonable and will oppose them.