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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 978

Senator IAN MACDONALD (10.09 p.m.) —I want to respond to Senator Schacht. There is in every other parliament a system of checks and balances which can—

Senator Schacht —Not in the Northern Territory.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Well, there is an administrator and a series of checks and balances. It is appropriate that there should continue to be a check and balance in relation to a matter that goes to the fundamental point of the ACT parliament.

  It is not the assembly as such that we have a concern about, it is this government. As Senator Schacht quite rightly points out, it is a Labor government—and when can we ever trust a Labor government with either money or the constitution? Some of its factional mates in the ACT assembly are not doing terribly well at the moment. There seems to be a continuing bloodbath in the ACT assembly—it is called Blue Hills on ABC radio—and it seems that there are a lot of people without jobs who probably want jobs. It would be so easy for the government to increase the number to many more than 17—

Senator Schacht —It does not have a majority in the assembly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It has the support of a couple of so-called independents. They are a bit like the Australian Democrats—they are on their own until the crunch comes and then they crawl over onto the left of the government. I think that is the situation in the ACT assembly as well. There are a couple of independents who are more left wing than even the left-wing faction of the Labor Party. We are concerned that they might manipulate the situation to suit their own factional purposes.  Going the other way, they might decide to reduce the number by skilful calculation to ensure that no other political party could ever hope to achieve a majority in the ACT assembly. It is not an issue that we raised.

Senator Schacht —You are talking more about Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland than the ACT.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Schacht does not have to talk to me about Bjelke-Petersen because I lived through that. Honourable senators do not often find me defending a lot of the things that happened then. But whatever happened in Queensland decades ago has no relevance or significance to my speech.

  I know about the sort of Tammany Hall tactics that the Labor Party has indulged in all of its life. Senator Schacht knows that better than I. Senator Schacht and Senator McMullan are the secretary type people that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) talked about so disparagingly. They know what that is all about; they know those things.

Senator Schacht —We are the true believers.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I did not think the Prime Minister was talking about true believers when he spoke about former party secretaries; I thought he had other things in mind.

  The opposition is concerned that the ACT assembly might do what Labor parties everywhere do: fiddle the books and fiddle the rules to make the numbers such that no other party could ever have a say in the parliament. My understanding of the electoral system is that that could very well happen. I am very concerned about that.

  I am rather nonplussed by the fact that the Democrats, while seen to be sharing that view, are prepared, as I understand from Senator Bell, to roll over again and go along with the government on this proposal if its amendments do not get up. I am finding it a little difficult to work out from Senator Bell just what the situation is. I really do not know whether he is just—to use a colloquialism—pulling my leg or whether he really means what he says. Every time I ask him he bursts into laughter and I am not quite sure what he is referring to.

  So that I can fully understand the matter, I ask Senator Bell, as the mover of the amendments, whether he would explain to me just what a referendum would mean. As I indicated before, I have not yet had the opportunity of—

Senator Schacht —Just vote against it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —No. I have not had the opportunity of looking at part 4 of the Australian Capital Territory (Electoral) Act 1988 to which he refers. If Senator Bell is serious about moving these amendments, I would like him to convince me by taking me through the part entitled `Referendum to Choose Electoral System' and indicating to me how the provisions of his amendments would apply to that. I will also get him to indicate to me whether there is a cost factor involved in doing those sorts of things. We might then be able to consider that proposal rationally. I want him to indicate whether there is anything else in part 4 of the electoral act which we possibly should look at in considering his proposal.

  When I say that I am going to vote against the Democrats' amendments and propose my own, I suppose that with some decent debate and decent arguments Senator Bell could convince me differently. When I inquired of Senator Bell why this amendment was not brought to our attention, he said, `We've only just drafted it'. I asked when that was and he said that that was at 9 o'clock this morning. That was 13 hours ago. I have been around the parliament all day. I would have thought that just a fraction of courtesy might have been appropriate. We could have had a look at it.

Senator Schacht —We are not debating manners here.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We might be debating that for the next half an hour. I do not know when we are proposing to adjourn tonight. It is a rather novel proposal by the Democrats to have a referendum of the ACT electors. It is something that I suppose, given a fraction more time to consider and consult with the people of ACT, I may agree to. We are a party that does listen to what the people say. The Labor Party by contrast, as shown in the budget, has no worry whatsoever—

Senator Schacht —You have done nothing else for 3 1/2 years but abuse the Democrats.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —With such rowdy interjections, I can barely hear myself think. The Labor Party is not interested in consulting with the people who are affected by its legislation. We have only to look at the budget. It apparently did not even consult with the ACTU.

Senator Schacht —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. This is a committee stage on a specific bill. It has nothing to do with the federal budget. Can we just get on with the committee stage?

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Colston)—I think we do have a problem with relevancy. I ask the honourable senator to be relevant to the bill before the committee.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am asking the mover of the amendments to tell me more about the proposal in his amendments regarding the Australian Capital Territory.

Senator Schacht —Sit down so that he can answer your question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I want to make sure that he is absolutely clear as to the question I am asking him, because I have had a rather unique experience with Senator Bell. Those opposite laugh because they have all been through this before; they obviously know how to treat the Democrats and what they say one day. My colleagues used to tell me about that.

  We are very interested in these amendments. I want to find out just what its ramifications are. I would like to consult with the people of the ACT. As the shadow minister—

Senator Schacht —Are we going to taxi around to several big hamburger joints tonight to find out?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There are representative people from the ACT available. I could ring Ms Follett and see what she thinks of the idea. Has Senator Schacht spoken to her since he became aware of the amendments?

Senator Schacht —She supports this bill.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Does Senator Schacht know what she thinks about the amendment?

Senator Schacht —If she supports the bill, I presume—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I would like Senator Schacht to check with Ms Follett. Maybe we should check with the Independents.

  Senator McMullan interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I did not quite hear Senator McMullan's interjection, but there are other people and groups in the ACT assembly who might want to be consulted. Perhaps the Trades and Labour Council in the ACT assembly might—

Senator McMullan —Why are you trying to filibuster?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —If perchance we did not finish with this by the time we got back to it tomorrow, perhaps I could have a talk with Senator Bell or ring Ms Follett to see what she thought about it.

Senator McMullan —The first bit of legislation we get and you talk it out.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We can very easily deal with the matter now. All I need is an undertaking from the government that it will support the amendment that I am going to move and we can get it over and done with.

Senator McMullan —Yours is wrong in principle.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is not wrong in principle. The Democrats indicated to me that they thought the principle was correct. They also indicated that they were going to support this proposal. Apparently, they had some meetings and, a mere 13 hours ago, decided to change their mind, but they did not bother to tell me about it. Without the benefit of some private explanation from Senator Bell, I am now inviting him to explain to me just what this will mean—how it will work in practice, what the cost might be, what representations he has taken on the issue and what sort of consultation there has been—so that I can consider these matters. I invite Senator Bell to assist me.