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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 3005..


MR STANHOPE (continuing):

The timing arranged for in this bill seems extraordinarily optimistic. If the bill passes this week there are just eight more weeks to the election. In this time Assembly members must notify the Speaker within two days of the commencement of the act whether they wish to be recorded as eligible to contribute to the yes or no vote on each question. In other words, they must decide their vote in advance of the arguments if they wish to have a voice. Then the four arguments must be developed and approved by at least a two-thirds majority of the MLAs who registered for each view. After they have agreed to the wording of their case they must get the agreed wording to the Electoral Commissioner within 14 days from the commencement of the act.

Then the Electoral Commissioner must arrange to print each authorised statement together in a pamphlet. Each elector or each household in the ACT is to receive their pamphlet at least 14 days before polling day. There is not much room for delay, so, in every office, constituency, Assembly and policy work will have to be put on hold to rush this through. Inevitably, both sides will wish they had more time to prepare their cases.

As we know, if people are unsure of the issues, or of the total picture, or of possible ramifications, they will vote against a referendum proposal. We know that is the history of referendums in Australia. In our history by far the majority of referenda questions fail. It is unrealistic to expect that every elector, or even half of the electors, will have read and considered the 8,000 words provided on the issues to them by the Electoral Commissioner.

The opposition has never said, and does not say, as suggested by the Attorney-General, that the people of Canberra are not sufficiently educated or informed to make a judgment on the issues, but we are indeed worried, as he suggests, that the debate leading up to the referendum will be characterised by simplistic statements. The very fact that the Attorney makes this statement is proof enough for our concern.

Reflecting on the wisdom and judgment of the Canberra community, it is my view that if the referendum proceeds both questions will be answered by a majority of Canberrans in the majority. I say that in order to put in some context the position which the ALP has taken in relation to this referendum. The referendum questions, in fact, reflect very broadly the ALP's position on both an injecting room and a heroin trial. We support a yes case and will support a yes case, but we oppose this referendum.

To return to the nature of the debate we can anticipate, we are already hearing plenty of simplistic statements. It will be surprising indeed if, in the referendum debate, a vote in favour of either or both the questions is not represented and not articulated as politicians just being soft on drugs.

To choose these two issues alone as the subject of the referendum presents a misleading picture of what is and must be a total strategy on drugs. The questions make no mention of the counselling, the drug education, the referrals and alternative treatments which will form an integral part of any supervised injecting room trial or of the provision of heroin under medical supervision.

As Labor stressed in the original debate on the proposal to establish a supervised injecting place trial, such an initiative must form one part only of a broader drugs strategy. This strategy must encompass treatment, harm reduction and education.


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