Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (28 April) . . Page.. 25 ..
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (10.53): Mr Speaker, I make it clear from the outset of this Fourth Assembly that the Australian Labor Party accepts, without making excuses, its punishment from the people of the ACT; we deserved it. In the court from which there is no appeal, the people's verdict was to demand a much better performance from ACT Labor. They deserve it and they will get it. That is the first, and the unqualified, pledge I make on behalf of my colleagues in the Assembly and the whole Labor Party in Canberra. The plain fact is that the people of Canberra had come to believe that the ACT Labor Party took them for granted. They had reached the conclusion that we took for granted their traditional strong support for Labor at the national level and that it could be transferred to the local level without our having to earn it or to work for it. The people resented that, and they were right to do so. They perceived us as having lost touch. That era has ended. The people of the ACT themselves put an end to it. We are here to make a new beginning. I am determined that the charge of selfishness, complacency and taking the people for granted can never again be brought against the Australian Labor Party in Canberra.
The election message, of course, was not confined to Labor; but there are ominous signs already that the Chief Minister and the Liberals have not heard it - that the people elected an Assembly in which no party or grouping of individuals is in a majority. They want a participatory democracy based on the premise that the ultimate power of decision-making rests with the people through their elected representatives. But no sooner was the election over than the Chief Minister came up with some extraordinary proposals - not to enhance the representative nature of the Assembly and not to improve participation; but to increase the power of the Executive and to reduce scrutiny. The Chief Minister proposed the creation of Executive committees. She now proposes that the Assembly abandon its Public Accounts Committee and its Scrutiny of Bills Committee.
These actions are designed to undermine the first principle of representative democracy, the fundamental principle that the Executive is answerable to the parliament or to the elected Assembly. How can representative government, responsible government in the constitutional sense, work properly if the Executive itself, Ministers in the Cabinet, or paid office-holders associated with the Cabinet, form almost the majority of the Assembly as a whole? What message does this Government send to the electorate by suggesting that this Assembly should be the only parliament in the country not to specifically provide for a committee to scrutinise public accounts or proposed legislation? Forget for a moment that the Chief Minister's proposals are a constitutional nonsense; they are a blatant attempt to set aside the decision of the people at the election, to make a mockery of their verdict and their choice of representatives. Well may we say, indeed, "Feel the power".
By contrast to those who seek a concentration of power in executive government, Labor's commitment is that we will stand up for the people of the ACT by making their Assembly more relevant and more effective. In particular, we will ensure that we are accessible to the people we represent; responsive to the views, needs and circumstances of all Canberrans; vigilant in safeguarding the interests of the community; committed to achieving more open and accountable government; and active in developing policies and pursuing initiatives which will benefit the people of the ACT and contribute to the achievement of a fair, just and productive society. Through these principles Labor will