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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7977

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (19:12): I rise to speak in support of this disallowance motion from Senators McKim and Siewert for the disallowance of legislative instruments made under the Australian Citizenship Act.

The story of local government in Australia is a critical story to remember in this decision. The history of local government is about decision-making at a local level, the third tier of democracy in our country, to allow and enable local people at local levels to make decisions and to believe that those decisions will be respected. When we look at the history in the 1800s leading up to Federation, we can see the strength of local government. It may not have been called that at the time but most of our first federal parliamentarians were local councillors. They were the ones who represented our country. They were the ones who drew up the Constitution—which we now decide is going to determine the fate of those who make decisions at local government levels. We need to remember that as lawmakers. We need to remember what we're doing when we decide, as a federal parliament, to overreach, to overstep, to crush, to diminish or to demolish the voices of those who believe they have a right to be heard. We need to reflect on why it is that we do it. We need to ask ourselves, as members in the federal parliament, how would we feel? How would we feel about that when we rightly represent our constituencies and stand up to fight for the issues that we know are incredibly important, and when we are incredibly passionate in fighting for those values and beliefs?

It's this Australian parliament that tried to get the first referendum up on local government, and it was Gough Whitlam, the former Labor Prime Minister, who was passionate about wanting to see the strength of the regions have a voice and have a future. That referendum was in 1974, and the 'yes' vote was 46.85 per cent. But Labor didn't give up on the local voices. Labor continued to push for the reality that those grassroots voices deserved to be heard and respected. They needed to be enabled to continue to make their own mistakes and to listen to their own constituents at the grassroots level.

It was Bob Hawke, another Labor Prime Minister, who took the country to a second referendum on local government. It was in 1988, the bicentenary year, a year when our country almost tore itself up, strangling itself on the history of first nations people. What did the 1988 bicentenary mean to the first nations people of this country, and what did it mean to all Australians? The arm wrestling and the soul searching continue today. That 1988 referendum saw the local government vote by Australians go down again, with the 'yes' vote at 33.61 per cent.

But Labor still believed in the voice of local government. It was former Prime Minister Paul Keating who first invited the Australian Local Government Association president, along with the states and territories, to the 1992 initiative of the Keating Labor government, a new forum called the Council of Australian Governments—as we all know, COAG. It was a seat at that table where Australian local governments across this country would be heard and their voices respected. In 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd established the Council of Australian Local Governments which met for the first time in November 2008. That council represented 565 local councils and shires right across Australia.

The voices of people at local government level are just as important as the voices of federal politicians in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. None of us should take lightly the removal and the disallowance of those voices at that local level with simply a tick of the paper, a flick of the pen: 'I don't like what you're doing. I don't like what you're saying. I'm going to remove your ability to do it, just because I can.' That's what's happened here. People may say, 'It's about Australia Day; don't make it political. Well, hello, senators. Let me tell you: it has to be one of the most political aspects of our country, because our country still has the unresolved issue of the relationship between black and white Australians. But don't let us diminish this parliament by removing the rights of those in local government to have the opportunity to talk about it. It's important that we uphold, as political leaders in this country, the right for those in the third tier of government to be respected, to be enabled and to make the decisions that they have a right, as elected members, to make on behalf of their constituents. And guess what? If they're not happy, they will vote them out, just like they will vote us out. Isn't that what a democracy is all about? Why are we so afraid?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ) : Senator McCarthy, it being 7.20, I need to move on. Thank you. Pursuant to the order of the Senate of 13 September 2017, the government business order of the day relating to the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017, having not been finally considered is now discharged from the Notice Paper.