Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (14 December) . . Page.. 3086 ..
MS FOLLETT (continuing):
After that fiasco the New Zealand Minister of Justice, the Hon. Doug Graham, suggested that referendums be reserved for conscience issues, and he warned voters that they should be wary before signing future referendum-triggering petitions. In spite of the referendum results, the Government is likely to proceed with the proposed cuts to the fire protection service, as they had always planned. Such a result will only serve to further alienate New Zealanders from the political process. New Zealand's law, by the way, is almost identical to the ACT proposal. The New Zealand law requires the signatures of 10 per cent of voters to trigger a referendum, and the result is non-binding on the Government.
Mr Speaker, the results of referendums in the State of California are the strongest warnings of all against this Bill that the Assembly is considering. In 1976 California voters gave themselves a property tax cut with the infamous proposition 13 referendum. The law severely limits the ability of local authorities to tax and to allocate revenue. According to Peter Schrag, who is the editor of the Sacramento Bee:
Proposition 13 all but destroyed the fiscal power of local government and moved it to Sacramento. In a state of more than 30 million people, the legislature and governor have become arbiters of local priorities.
Sacramento is the capital of California. Mr Speaker, the example of proposition 13 in California shows the results of direct democracy at its worst. Many voters did not understand how severely the ability of their Government would be limited when they voted for proposition 13, and the result is that local governments are often unable to deal effectively with problems in education, urban planning, health and other areas.
The California referendums did not stop with proposition 13. Every two years Californians are faced with a barrage of referendums on all sorts of things such as environmental issues, gun control, insurances, taxes, illegal aliens, and criminal sentencing. California law-makers are simply unable to make policies for many issues; the laws are made instead by referendum. Sometimes on the same ballot paper there are even referendum questions which contradict each other. California ballot papers are now often tens of pages long. Have we not had enough examples in the ACT of ballot papers being held up to ridicule? Peter Schrag concludes that reforms by referendum:
... have crippled state and local governments with so many limits and mandates and so tangled responsibility that it is increasingly difficult for representative government to function at all and nearly impossible for even well-informed people to know who's accountable for what. In effect, Californians, pursuing visions of governmental perfection, have made it increasingly difficult for elected officials to make any rational policy decisions.
Mr Speaker, California's electoral nightmare is a compelling argument against CIR. The ACT's voters already have a system of representative democracy which guarantees that law-makers can hear their voices. We owe it to the people of the ACT not to pass legislation which could lead to restrictions on the ability of this Assembly to govern.