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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 11 Hansard (26 September) . . Page.. 3447 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The proposed temporary orders provide for addresses to the Assembly by representatives on behalf of a community group or community interests. Under the proposal, at 4.30 pm on the second sitting Wednesday of each sitting fortnight, the Speaker would interrupt the business before the Assembly in order that addresses to the Assembly by representatives on behalf of a community group or community interests may take place for a period not exceeding 45 minutes. Each representative would have been given a period not exceeding 15 minutes to address the Assembly and would be subject to the standing orders of the Assembly and the protections afforded by the privilege of the Assembly. The temporary orders propose that the addresses be restricted to matters of ACT significance and be of communal rather than personal concern, and should not contain private grievances.

The proposal also envisaged a significant role for the Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure. In the first instance, this committee would have the responsibility of arranging the order of those who would be addressing the Assembly and also preparing guidelines to assist the Speaker and those appearing. The committee may have decided not to consider a request to address the Assembly if it considered the letter was not sufficiently serious, was frivolous, vexatious or offensive in character, and so on.

The committee did discuss this issue. The proposal to have persons other than members address the Assembly is almost without precedent and is uncommon in other legislatures. As far as is known, it is without precedent for it to occur on a regular basis. The committee's prime consideration when examining the proposed temporary orders was whether there was a need to establish such a procedure. It was of the view that there already was an effective avenue through which the community's interests can be voiced in the Assembly through the committee system.

Since self-government the Assembly's committee system has played a very active and vital role in the work of the Assembly and consideration of major issues by the Assembly. The committees have conducted numerous self-referred inquiries on such diverse issues as fuelwood heating and the establishment of a casino. Other inquiries have been at the direction of the Assembly, including one on domestic and commercial waste, and consideration of such legislation as the Adoption Bill and the Voluntary and Natural Death Bill. The reports made by the committees have provided valuable information for the Assembly and the community to debate. This is shown to be a very effective means for the community to have input into the working of the Assembly. The committee was concerned that the proposed temporary orders, if implemented, in seeking to establish their own niche in the parliamentary system, would actively undermine the very valuable work of the Assembly committees in providing a channel for the community's viewpoints.

The new line of communication - direct addresses to the Assembly - does not appear to create an avenue of input into the Assembly's consideration of issues for a clientele that is currently disenfranchised. In fact, it is more restrictive than those offered in the committee system, as it limits addresses to representatives of community groups or community interests, while committees can, and do, receive submissions from any individual interested in speaking.

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