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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 6 Hansard (11 May) . . Page.. 1593 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

On the positive side, there have been considerable advances in nature conservation and environment protection in the ACT through the gazettal of public land under the Territory Plan, updating of the earlier Nature Conservation Ordinance and the introduction of the integrated environment protection legislation. Many of the environmental issues which confront us are the same as for other cities around the world - the pressures of development, the nature of a consumer society, transport issues, pollution issues, energy use and so on. I believe that through self-government we have a greater opportunity to work with the community and with each other as much as possible to find ways of dealing with these issues and the many other issues which we have to face.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (10.42): Mr Speaker, it seems a lifetime ago, not merely 10 years ago, that 17 of us sat at vinyl-covered ex-Public Service desks in a horseshoe in a hastily converted former government shopfront across the road and began what Mr Kaine has called the roller-coaster ride called ACT self-government. That the intervening 10 years have been eventful would be a major understatement. To describe the high points (and there have been many) without also describing the low points (and there have been almost as many) would be misleading, and I would not wish to mislead the house - not today anyway.

Mr Speaker, the infertile ground in which self-government was sown meant that this new seedling was a hardy specimen. The perks of office were fairly minimal compared with other parliaments, and the individual scrutiny of members of this place has been extremely intense compared with other parliaments. It has also meant that self-government has had to keep proving itself and its worth throughout these 10 years. Whether it has or has not is a matter I would leave for others less close to the action to decide. But I do believe that the adaptability which has resulted from that has led to more change to the form, the values, the mechanics and the trappings of government in the ACT and the ACT's legislature than in any other State or parliament over the same period - certainly any other parliament in Australia, and perhaps in the world.

The Assembly has already moved a very long way from its strict Westminster inheritance. Witness Mr Moore's presence beside me in the chamber today. The most striking evolution in that process perhaps has been in the growth of the legislature's power at the expense of the Executive's. Today the Executive has to make room for other MLAs in almost all decision-making processes except the budget, and even then I am a little bit worried on occasions. That, Mr Speaker, is not necessarily a bad thing. It recognises the unlikelihood that four or five people will hold a monopoly on political wisdom, will be able to hold others off from participation in an articulate, well-educated, politically savvy town like Canberra. I feel that the direction we are taking in the ACT in this respect is a direction that other jurisdictions in Australia, perhaps other liberal democracies elsewhere in the world, will go in the next 50 years. So the ACT is in this, as in other areas, a trailblazer.

Mr Speaker, ancient Athens had a system which allowed many ordinary citizens of its community a role in important decisions of government. They could do that because they were unencumbered by remoteness from the seat of power. The same could be true of Canberra. The parallels between Canberra and ancient Athens in that respect are striking.

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