Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2314 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
It is clear that fundamental and inevitable changes are taking place in liberal democracies such as ours. The form of representative government Australia inherited on Federation worked well when information was difficult to transmit and travel was arduous and expensive. It made sense for those times. But now the traditional concept of representative government is under challenge. Times have changed with the revolution in communications and the emergence of a well-informed, well-educated electorate. Today many voters know as much about what is happening as their representatives do - in some cases more - and they find out just as quickly. Armed with this information and the ability to understand it, people are no longer prepared to accept that their leaders or representatives always know best. Hence, society is seeing a demand for participation.
This Government believes that, if people are confident that the decision-making processes are open and fair, and if they are able to participate in those decisions, then they are far more likely to own the result. This philosophy has led to the development of this Bill, which will give voters, in addition to elected members of the Legislative Assembly, the power to initiate laws and to vote on them. We believe that the knowledge and experience of ordinary people in the ACT are a marvellous resource for the rules by which the community is governed.
This Bill is based on the Community Referendum Bill 1994 which was considered by the Select Committee on Community Initiated Referendums last year. The Bill has been updated to take account of comments made in the select committee's report of November 1994 and the passage of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1994. Under the Bill, the sponsors of a proposal need the support of 1,000 electors to have the proposal registered. Then they have six months to get the support of more than 5 per cent, or around 10,000 electors. If successful, legislation to put the proposal into effect is drafted and presented to the Assembly. The Assembly may pass the proposed law or refer it to a referendum. If the Assembly does nothing, the proposed law goes to a referendum automatically. Provided four months has elapsed, a referendum is held in conjunction with the next general election of the Assembly.
If a proposal is so popular that more than 10 per cent, or around 20,000 electors, support it, and the proposed law is tabled prior to 31 October in the first two years of the three-year life of an Assembly, the Bill provides for holding a referendum on that proposed law on the third Saturday in February in the next year, provided the Assembly does not first enact the law. If a majority of electors support the proposed law, it is presented to the Assembly to be passed into law. As the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 now stands, only the Assembly can make laws. The Assembly cannot be bound to enact a proposed law passed at referendum. However, the Assembly would ignore the wishes of a majority of voters at a referendum at its peril. To enable the results of community-initiated referendums to be binding on the Assembly, the Government will approach the Commonwealth Government seeking amendments to the self-government Act.
Another step the Government intends to take is to introduce an entrenching law to ensure that the Assembly does not remove the right of electors to initiate laws by repealing or fundamentally altering this Bill without the approval of either a two-thirds majority of the Assembly or a majority of electors at a referendum. That entrenching law will also seek