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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 5 Hansard (2 May) . . Page.. 1380 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

and the Northern Territory. However, the Assembly is unlikely to make such a change without bipartisan support and a public consultation process. Certainly, that is a change which members on this side of the house and perhaps some on the other side have indicated they would consider favourably. It is something that we would not do immediately but I would not be surprised if a majority of people around this place thought that it may not be such a bad idea if we went along that path. Consequently, there does not appear to be any justification for holding a referendum to entrench this provision.

The Electoral Commission estimates that the cost of holding a referendum on this bill concurrently with the election that will be held on 20 October 2001 would be $260,000. That cost includes printing and distributing the Yes and No cases, printing ballot papers, additional advertising, additional forms, equipment and staff manuals, modifications to the electronic voting system and additional staff costs. The Electoral Commission would need budget supplementation for this amount in the 2001-02 budget. I do not think it is there.

Given the absence of a demonstrated need for entrenchment of the fixed election date and the election term provisions of the Electoral Act and having regard to the considerable cost of holding a referendum, the government has decided to oppose Ms Tucker's bill.

MR QUINLAN (4.42): The ALP will support this bill. The concept of a fixed term is fundamental to the ACT parliamentary system. We do not have a Governor-General to whom we can go to dissolve the parliament and call an early election with his approval. The only intervention that the Governor-General can conduct is on the basis of this parliament becoming totally unworkable.

The Select Committee on the Report of the Review of Governance, the Pettit review, our own Assembly's review of that, concluded that the fixed-term election is one of the strengths of our electoral system. I think that the Canberra Times has endorsed that. Its editorial of 16 October 1998 included the statement that the whole aim of the fixed term is to take away from the Chief Minister the power to set the election date so that there would be no short-term advantage taken by the executive, with all that entails, for the engineering of spending and vote buying.

I have to say that the events of the last week or so have demonstrated that the engineering of spending and vote buying are far from dead. Without raking over old coals in detail, we have recently witnessed at least posturing on the part of some members of this place in relation to using loopholes within the Electoral Act to force an early election. Some members were ready to compromise the constitutional arrangements of the territory for short-term political gain. I think that it was only in the face of a public outcry that some of those members found a late-developing concern for the stability of our system.

It is important to preserve the original intent in the setting up of the structure of the ACT. If we have to go through a little gymnastics with a referendum which can be conducted quite easily in parallel with an Assembly election, I think we should do so, and we will support this bill.

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