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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 2918..


Community Referendum Bill 2002

Mr Humphries, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and, by leave, its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MR HUMPHRIES (Leader of the Opposition) (10.33): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, I rise for the fourth time in this place to bring before this Assembly the Community Referendum Bill.

Mr Quinlan: Slow learner.

MR HUMPHRIES: You could say the same of Mr Berry, I suppose, on abortion, Mr Quinlan. I rise a fourth time to keep faith with the people of Canberra and to show my commitment and the commitment of the Liberal Party to a wide and inclusive dialogue with them. Indeed, this is the fifth time that this bill, in one form or another, has been brought before the Assembly. In reintroducing the bill, the Liberals are challenging the new members of this Assembly to look objectively and dispassionately at the principles underpinning this bill and we are challenging the members who were in the Fourth Assembly to rethink, with the benefit of experience, the democratic advantages of community referenda.

Mr Speaker, it will come as no surprise that I believe that there is merit in this bill receiving closer scrutiny than it received in previous Assemblies. To that end, the reintroduction of this bill today asks members to consider the important principle of granting Canberrans a stronger voice through community-initiated referenda. In the previous Assemblies, the bill was the victim of prejudice and fear-prejudice that the people, the citizens of the ACT, cannot be trusted to make their own laws, and fear that MLAs might lose their monopoly over law-making. There is real irony in empowering electors to choose this august body but refusing them the right to enact legislation.

This pioneering legislation reflects the opposition's commitment to the principle that ultimately sovereignty rests with the people, not with governments, not even with parliaments. If enacted, it would empower ordinary electors to have a genuine say in the laws that govern them by giving average people-the ordinary working people of Canberra, I might even say-the right to initiate and enact their own laws. It is a serious responsibility we in the Assembly have. We must take a very careful approach to ensure that such proposals will be well thought out and will result in good law.

This bill seeks not only to legislatively empower electors but also to complement the role of the Legislative Assembly. Members will be aware that in recent days this debate has been initiated as well in South Australia. Indeed, it is the case that in every state and territory in Australia, except perhaps for the Northern Territory, legislation of this kind has been introduced at one point or another. I believe that citizen-initiated referenda ultimately will be adopted in other parts of Australia and perhaps other parts of the world


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