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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (13 May) . . Page.. 1763..

Thursday, 13 May 2004

The Assembly met at 10.30 am.

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am, made a formal recognition that the Assembly was meeting on the lands of the traditional owners, and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Chief Minister

Motion of want of confidence

MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (10.34): I move:

That, since the Chief Minister has repeatedly misled the Legislative Assembly on the question of advice given to him and contact made with him during the period 17-18 January 2003 regarding the 2003 bushfires, this Assembly no longer has confidence in the Chief Minister, Mr Jon Stanhope MLA.

Mr Speaker, this Assembly has been misled. It has been repeatedly misled by the Chief Minister of the ACT. We are not here today to debate whether the Assembly was misled, because that fact has already been conceded; we are here to debate the excuse that the Chief Minister offers. We need to decide whether his excuse meets the high standards of accountability required of ministers. This is no small responsibility; nor, as it has been asserted, is it merely a political issue for the 17 members here today. In deciding this question the Assembly will be setting standards that will directly affect the quality of government in Canberra into the future. By 'government' I mean government not just by ministers, but also by this Assembly, because today the Assembly will decide whether it will allow itself to operate in a climate where ministers can mislead it and get away with it.

The Chief Minister's excuse is not adequate; in fact, his excuse is not even credible. Claiming memory loss to avoid being accountable for your actions is a shallow technique that attracts widespread community derision. The Chief Minister's comments are helping to keep the reputation of politicians at their sadly low level. His memory problems are being discussed and parodied in homes, workplaces and shopping centres throughout the city and, I suspect, throughout the country. One story related to me last weekend tells of two ladies who came out of a supermarket queue. One suddenly said to the other that she had forgotten to buy the cream, and her friend replied, "Oh my! You've got Chief Minister's disease!"And they both laughed and walked off. That is at the heart of what is happening.

I sat in the stand on Anzac Day, as did many of the members here, as Mr Stanhope was announced to come forward and lay a wreath. As he approached the Stone of Remembrance, one digger in the grandstand was heard to say, "Well, at least he's remembered to do something!"-and a ripple of laughter ran through the crowd. That was three weeks ago-before the current scandal came to light. But the issue is being taken much more seriously by those who lost homes, livelihoods and even loved ones on January 18, 2003. To many people the Chief Minister's position is little short of contemptible.

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