Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 1 Hansard (14 February) . . Page.. 90 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
A second referendum to seek community support for the Proportional Representation Entrenchment Act was held at the time of the 1995 election and was passed. The act includes a list of principles which our electoral system should comply with. Curiously, it did not include the other key feature of our electoral system, which is the fixed election date. In looking back at the debates of the time, one gets the impression that there was so much argument about what our voting system should be that the fixed election date was overlooked. There seemed to be a general assumption that this was not an issue that needed to be debated-that everyone thought it was a good idea.
This all changed last year after the Auditor-General released his damning report on the redevelopment of the Bruce Stadium and it appeared that the former Chief Minister had lost the confidence of a majority of the Assembly. The proposal was put up by Mr Osborne-and seriously considered by the government, I believe-that an early election should be brought on to resolve the issue, despite the tradition of fixed election dates in the ACT. This was also despite the provision in the self-government legislation for the Assembly to be able to vote for a new Chief Minister if it lost confidence in the current one. There was no legitimate need to bring on an early election and the crisis was resolved the way that the self-government legislation envisaged, through the appointment of a new Chief Minister.
However, this incident brought to light that an early election could in fact be brought on by an amendment to section 100 of the Electoral Act by a simple majority of the Assembly. Conversely, it would also be possible to extend the period between elections through the same means. This seems quite contrary to the spirit of the original self-government legislation and Mr Humphries' Proportional Representation Entrenchment Bill.
It should be pointed out that it is possible to have an early election if the Assembly becomes ungovernable. Under the self-government act, the Governor-General can dissolve the Assembly and order an early election if he or she is of the opinion that the Assembly is incapable of effectively performing its functions or is conducting its affairs in a grossly improper manner. An early election can also be held if the Assembly passes a resolution of no confidence in the Chief Minister and does not elect a Chief Minister within 30 days. However, the situation last year with Mrs Carnell had certainly not reached the stage of making the Assembly ungovernable, so bringing on an early election by amending the electoral act would have been opportunistic and a distortion of the self-government act.
My bill therefore inserts into the Proportional Representation Entrenchment Act the provision that any law that relates to the day on which an ordinary election of members is to be held is also entrenched. If my bill comes into effect, the current fixed election day will not be able to be changed without the support of at least a two-thirds majority of members or a simple majority of members and a referendum, as is the case with the other features of our electoral system that are covered by the entrenchment act. This entrenchment would not prevent the election date being changed for administrative reasons, with the broad agreement of the Assembly, which has already occurred once with the move from the February to an October election.