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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 11 February 2010) . . Page.. 283 ..

In a unicameral parliament such as our own, committees play a critical role in scrutinising the government’s actions, and my ministerial colleagues and I place great importance on our appearance before committees. These hearings provide an important forum for considered and thoughtful exploration and debate on the issues confronting our city and on the actions of the government, and they hopefully provide an opportunity to move beyond the theatre of question time and the media grab to a more thorough consideration of the issues.

A commitment to this open transparency and accountability lies at the core of the government’s approach in discharging its responsibilities, and this is demonstrated in the parliamentary agreement which we entered into with the Greens just over a year ago. We entered into that agreement with a joint determination and commitment to work together in a spirit of cooperation in the best interests of the citizens of the territory and an undertaking to ensure an accountable and transparent government, public service and parliament that are responsive to the community.

The parliamentary agreement includes commitments to pursue measures which will ensure higher standards of accountability, transparency and responsibility in the conduct of all public business and a range of undertakings, most of which have already been implemented in procedural reforms designed to enhance the good government of the territory. Perhaps most importantly, the parliamentary agreement includes a commitment to the Latimer House principles. The government welcomes and indeed proposed the formal recognition that the Assembly has now given to the fundamental principles of democracy which are set out in these principles and which establish a framework for the promotion of the rule of law, good governance and respect of human rights.

Having adopted these principles as a continuing resolution, it is crucial that we all explicitly recognise and respect the inherent freedoms and powers as well as checks and balances that comprise our system of government. In this regard, the government would stress the importance of the statement in the Latimer House principles that “each branch of government is the guarantor in their respective spheres of fundamental principles of democratic society based on the rule of law”.

One of the obligations created by the Latimer House principles is for each branch of government to respect the proper roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of the others. Just as it would be inappropriate for the executive to interfere in the operations of the courts, there are proper limitations on the Assembly’s powers over the executive and vice versa. For this reason, the government will not support paragraph (2) of Mrs Dunne’s motion as it stands.

The Assembly’s powers to call for documents are not unfettered and cannot be supported unconditionally. Members will recall Sir Laurence Street, in his arbitration of the government’s claim of executive privilege over the functional review, decided that document falls “well within the field of legitimate cabinet immunity”. The government has consistently maintained that releasing documents such as this would undermine fundamentally important principles of our system of government and compromise the capacity of this and, importantly, future ACT governments to discharge its responsibilities.

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