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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 9 Hansard (23 August) . . Page.. 3276 ..

Community Referendum Bill 1998

Debate resumed from 28 May 1998, on motion by Mr Stefaniak:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (3.24): Mr Speaker, the Labor Party has previously opposed the Community Referendum Bill, and it is still opposed to the concept this time round, for very much the same reasons as previously expressed.

It is difficult to see how this bill will strengthen our democracy. The ACT and the Assembly are still of a size where members are readily contactable by members of the community, who can lobby us individually or in groups on particular issues or legislative proposals.

We have all experienced that lobbying which, for my office-I did test my memory on this-probably peaked in relation to the supervised injecting place or perhaps the commercial and retail tenancies legislation, though at the moment I am copping an enormous number of representations in relation to egg labelling as well.

These are very disparate issues affecting different groups, but the lobbying on each was intense, as opposing groups sought to get their views across. This bill, in the opinion of Labor Party, is simply an expensive way of achieving the same end.

When the Chief Minister was proposing the referendum on drugs policy earlier in these sittings, it was estimated that the referendum would cost $210,000. This bill proposes that any group who wants a legislative proposal sent to a referendum can, with minimum support, do so. The referendum would be held in conjunction with an election, or if it was not an election year, on a community consultation day. This means that we could be facing a referendum every year, and they may not necessarily be single question referendums either.

The bill provides not just for the citizen-initiated legislative proposals to be put to a referendum. Any legislative proposal before the Assembly can be subject to a referendum. Last year 112 bills were presented to the Assembly. Eighty-three were government bills, three came from an executive member, and 26 were private member bills. The Assembly considered and voted on 90 bills. Of the 90 bills presented, 86 were passed and four were rejected. Not all of the 86 bills passed would have been passed unanimously, so there would have been a substantial number of bills that the Assembly, had it so wished, could have referred to a referendum under this bill.

The question is therefore to be asked: where does that leave responsible, accountable government? The danger is that it would be transferred to extremists, pressure groups and power elites with a vested interest in obtaining a particular result on a particular bill. Those pressure groups and power elites that are best organised and well funded would be best placed to organise and run the campaign needed to obtain the result they desired. The Assembly would potentially become a rubber stamp to such groups.

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