Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (25 May) . . Page.. 2147..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
steamrolled through without due process or scrutiny and where the intent and safeguards of other laws have been subverted simply for political expedience? How many times have we thought that at least we have a reasonably accountable and civilised parliament in the ACT and that the ACT Labor Party, at least, is not so completely disrespectful of principles of good governance in its actions?
The Howard government excised parts of Australia from the Australian migration zone in order to remove protections for people who might throw themselves on our mercy; in other words, for political purposes in order to save itself any political embarrassment and in complete contradiction of any notion of integrity or due process, let alone decency. It introduced privative clauses to reduce appeal rights for one class of people, as this government is doing today.
Scrutiny by courts and tribunals at the instigation of hardworking members of the community is a form of criticism. It is sometimes inconvenient. The resistance that comes from a vigilant civil society is inconvenient to government. Everyone, whether in opposition or simply out in the world, appreciates the importance of that form of resistance. That capacity to speak up, question, criticise and oppose the government of the day or, in this case, the majority of members of the Assembly is, indeed, a core part of democracy. There is still an entitlement, one would have thought, to have access to appeal rights. To forget all that due to political exigencies is simply unforgivable.
This bill as it stands attempts to remove all appeal rights other than the common law right of access to the Supreme Court. It is removing all of the standard appropriate judicial review mechanisms for these kinds of decisions. By pursuing this path the ACT government, along with the opposition, whose bill is simply a more blatant and untrammelled example of exactly the same thinking, is simply raising expedience to a high point of achievement and setting a precedent that at any time, in the face of any difficulty of a greater or lesser extent, it is perfectly reasonable for a government to introduce a law which completely subverts the commitment to accountable process and, importantly, to the safeguards we have established for our environment, heritage, health and wellbeing.
This bill basically gives the minister complete power to make any decisions in regard to the Gungahlin Drive extension, with potentially very little scope for objection and with no specific criteria to guide that decision-making. This power, without any defined reference to principles, is meant to replace the Heritage Act, the Environment Protection Act, the Nature Conservation Act, the Land (Planning and Environment) Act or any other law prescribed in the future.
These laws are written, usually, with careful consideration of all the steps necessary to ensure a sound decision is made. For example, the Environment Protection Act, where it concerns activities affecting nature reserves, requires the decisions to be made by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, possibly informed by an expert group, the Flora and Fauna Committee, with reference to the objectives of the reserve. I will have more to say on this point in the detail stage.
I have to raise major concerns about the capacity of this Assembly seriously to consider the points that have been made by the scrutiny of bills committee and of the government to respond to them in a thoughtful way. While I am on that committee, I am in no way