Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (28 May) . . Page.. 693 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
The process has been carefully thought out and addresses the frequent objections to community referenda. No matter will be brought forward in haste: At least six months must elapse from the initiation of an idea to its becoming a referendum. Referenda will generally be held in conjunction with elections to the Legislative Assembly, so costs will be kept to a minimum. We will not be asked to vote on any harebrained scheme that an individual elector might think up. First of all, there needs to be a committee to propose the initiative. That committee must gain initial support for their proposal from 1,000 electors before it can be registered. Then it must receive the support of 5 per cent, or about 10,000 electors, to become a formal initiative. This is a significant hurdle, as anyone who has ever sought to garner signatures on a petition will know.
Mr Speaker, other safeguards include that, before a proposal can be registered, the Electoral Commissioner must ensure that it is within the power of the Legislative Assembly and cannot interfere with the budget by proposing or prohibiting expenditure of specific amounts of public money for particular purposes. Also, this Bill demands a high level of support for a proposed law. In most other jurisdictions, a referendum is passed if it is supported by the majority of those who decide to vote at a voluntary poll. By contrast, this Bill requires support of the majority under compulsory voting.
In addition, the Chief Minister must undertake an estimate of what it is likely to cost or save. The Auditor-General then provides an independent assessment of that estimate. The reason for this requirement is that, if a proposal is to be enshrined in law, it is necessary for the community to have reliable information on how much the proposal would cost to implement or the savings which might be made. This is similar to the rigour imposed on the Executive when it decides on legislative proposals in this place. It is appropriate for the estimate of the costs or savings to be done at the time the proposed law has been prepared, because it is the legislation, not the proposal, that governs what is and what is not done.
In addition, a proposal may never come to referendum, because the Assembly may pass the proposed law. However, if the Assembly does nothing, the proposed law goes to a referendum automatically. Provided that 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 30 June 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 October in that year, provided that 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 now stands, only the Assembly can make laws. The Assembly cannot be bound to enact a proposed law passed at referendum; but it is my personal view that it would be a courageous Assembly that thus defied the will of the electors. To enable the results of community-initiated referenda to be binding on the Assembly, if this Bill is passed, the Government will approach the Commonwealth Government seeking amendments to the self-government Act.