Page 2561 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 24 August 1994

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   Wednesday, 24 August 1994


MADAM SPEAKER (Ms McRae) took the chair at 10.30 am and read the prayer.


MRS CARNELL (Leader of the Opposition) (10.31): I present the Community Referendum Bill 1994.

Title read by Clerk.


That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

This Bill marks a major threshold in the evolution of democracy in Australia and is the most important item of legislation ever to be presented to this Assembly. It puts into effect the principles of giving average people, firstly, the right to initiate their own laws and, secondly, the right to vote on those laws. This pioneering piece of legislation reflects our commitment to the principle that the people, not governments, have the ultimate sovereignty. It empowers ordinary electors to have a genuine say in the sort of legislation that governs them.

The idea has been well tested. Various versions of direct democracy have been operating successfully for several years in Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Austria and the United States, where 26 States have some form of direct voter participation in law-making and a further 20 have Bills in the pipeline. In February this year New Zealand's Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act became effective. The important point to note is that no country or State which has introduced a formal process of direct democracy - such as community-initiated referenda, or CIR - has ever voted to get rid of it. When Californians were asked whether they wanted to continue CIR, they voted 85 per cent in favour. When the residents of Burnie Shire in Tasmania were asked whether they wanted the right to initiate and vote on legislation, they voted 87 per cent in favour. That is a huge vote of confidence.

What is clear is that fundamental and inevitable changes are taking place in liberal democratic societies such as ours. Modern democracies have evolved from a period when control was in the hands of the aristocracy and property owners. Some of the early State parliaments in Australia continued this tradition. Then came the dramatic change of women being given the right to vote, but power remained - and some would say it still remains - in the hands of a parliamentary and bureaucratic elite.

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