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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 2 Hansard (1 March) . . Page.. 464 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

to cabinet, because it undermines those notions of cabinet solidarity, it undermines executive responsibility, and it undermines ministerial responsibility, which are fundamental principles.

So how do other jurisdictions deal with these difficult issues, issues involving matters of conscience? Each and every one of the Australian jurisdictions-and I think it is the same throughout the Westminster world-proceeds with them on the basis of private members business, which then allows each member of cabinet to deal with it as a matter of conscience. It does not involve the executive, it does not involve the cabinet, and the matter is dealt with appropriately without undermining those principles, which really do need to be defended and protected.

All of these fundamental principles, each of these conventions around the operations of parliaments, accountable government, good government, require the Westminster conventions to be maintained.

That debate is over; I do not wish to re-visit it, but I maintain my position that it was inappropriate for two members of the executive to introduce this matter into the cabinet by taking an executive decision to produce regulations, in face of the bitter opposition of the responsible minister, which led to the situation that we have government legislation, namely regulations, not private members business. The matter could have been dealt with at the time. These problems that I am highlighting would not have been faced if the matter had been dealt with as private members business, through a bill.

The difficulty with using regulations is that regulations require an action on the part of the executive. It requires two ministers to act in concert, reflecting an executive position, namely a decision of the government to introduce regulations. Private members business does not require that. So the argument that this amendment that I am proposing denies individual ministers the capacity to reflect a conscience position is simply not true. Conscience issues should not be dealt with through executive action.

There are two principles here that are competing: the need for cabinet and executive solidarity in order to ensure that cabinets, executives and governments are truly responsible to the legislature for each of their actions, and the competing principle that, on certain issues that have such significance as conscience issues, it is accepted that each member of the legislature should have the right, outside of the notions of solidarity and collective action, to express an individual point of view. They are the two principles that clash. They did clash in this particular instance, and it was a clash which could have and should have been avoided.

All I am suggesting is that we as a parliament need to be careful about protecting some of those notions that make the Western democracies as strong as they are, and we can do that simply by insisting that at least the responsible minister sign his own regulations along with one other minister. In that instance, it would have at least sent a signal to the executive that you cannot get around notions of cabinet solidarity simply by one minister absenting himself from a decision-making process where he has a matter of conscience that precludes him from acting in the way which the executive has obviously decided to act-in effect, an executive imposing.

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