Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2316 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
The cost of running a referendum is sometimes cited as the reason for denying the community the opportunity to initiate laws and vote on them. To the extent that there is some expense, it will be reduced by ensuring that most referenda are held at the same time as general elections. Another factor that will reduce cost, and in some cases eliminate it altogether, is that all referendum proposals will first be tabled in the Assembly and the Assembly can pass the law itself if it wants to, in which case no referendum will need to be held.
"Voter apathy" is also cited as a reason for not allowing direct democracy. To a large extent, voter apathy is a product of the present political system. People are not inherently apathetic; but, if they feel excluded from the action and powerless to do anything about it, it is not surprising that people have become disillusioned with the political process. Give people real power and people will be bound to take an interest. Another argument cited is lack of understanding of the legislative process. It is argued that ordinary people are not capable of understanding the complexities of issues and legislative proposals, but I say that the level of political understanding in the electorate depends much more on interest than on ability. Hence, although opponents of direct democracy use the argument that the public is too ignorant to initiate and vote on the rules of the community, the mere act of participating in the process will dramatically increase the level of public interest and knowledge. This is certainly the experience in the United States.
Mr Speaker, this Bill points the way for the development of democracy in Australia. The community does not want more power for politicians. You only have to look at their response every time they are asked for an increase in political power. The only power that needs increasing is the power of the people themselves. Whatever happens in this community in terms of the rules by which we live should not be decided by a few politicians and should not be imposed by narrow interest groups via the political party in power at the time. Whatever happens should happen because the people decide that that is what they want. Surely, Mr Speaker, that is democracy. This Bill gives the people of the Territory that power, and I commend this Bill to the Assembly.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General): Mr Speaker, I present the Government response to the report of the Select Committee on Community Initiated Referendums which was presented to the Second Assembly on 10 November 1994.