Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (29 October) . . Page.. 2491 ..
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.37): I follow my colleague Mr Hargreaves, simply to acknowledge that the Labor Party will not be supporting this Bill, for a number of very good reasons. Initially, there is a genuine concern within the community about litter; there is no doubt about that. I think that is generally accepted. There are other concerns that we have to consider in the context of this debate. One is whether or not a fine of $1,000 should attach to the placing of a leaflet under a windscreen-wiper. I honestly do not believe that this community should be in the business of imposing a fine of up to $1,000 for putting a leaflet under a windscreen-wiper. I really do think that we need, at times, in this place to pause and consider our legislation program and our willingness to enter into and pass legislation. We need to think about it for a whole range of reasons.
I am minded of a discussion that I had just recently with an officer of the legislative drafting branch within the ACT Government - a discussion with a friend, not a formal discussion, I hasten to add - about the legislative attitude in the ACT and in this Assembly. He commented on a seminar that he had attended, at which there was a representative from the South Pacific - I think, from Fiji. He commented that the moral that affects the attitude of the legislators in Fiji is: "The less legislation, the better". It seems to me that in this place we have developed a culture of "Legislation swift and fast, let's get the numbers up". There is a legislation race. There is a determination to actually see whether or not we can legislate on a continuing range of issues.
Mr Hird: The more the merrier!
MR STANHOPE: The more the merrier! The list is never ending. The extent to which we will go to trammel, actually control, human behaviour is almost unlimited; whereas in Fiji, it was suggested to me, there is a culture of "Do we genuinely need to constrain every single human activity that we can imagine? Do we need to go around dreaming up every possible circumstance that we can legislate on?". So at the end of the day, in some other jurisdictions, there is a pride in not having rushed in to legislate on every conceivable thing.
I think that we have got the balance wrong - not just in the ACT, but perhaps in Australia - and that we are too inclined, too ready, to legislate on an ever-increasing range of issues. We continue to confine the range of human activities that are unconstrained, that we do not impose on, and we find it easier and easier. Today we ban the placement of leaflets under windscreen-wipers; tomorrow we ban the placement of unsolicited mail in letterboxes; and it goes on and on. We inhibit free speech.
The standing committee on scrutiny of Bills recognises this particular problem and raises the question in its report on this Bill, without comment or recommendation. But, once again, we have a piece of legislation that is balancing a human right - a right to free speech, a right to publicise views - with a right not to have a leaflet placed under the windscreen-wiper of our car. I have to say that, when I weigh up those competing rights - the right to freedom of speech, as identified by the scrutiny of Bills committee, and the passing inconvenience of a leaflet under a windscreen-wiper - my inclination is to come down on the side of the right to free speech, the right to publicise a view, a product or an event. That is what I come down to in this debate.