Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 1528 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
I make those comments by way of caution. It is something that happens now and again. It is not earth-shattering when it does. I do not think that, in the past, it has necessarily affected this Assembly in going about its daily business.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (11.01): I did not anticipate a lengthy debate on this issue. I guess there will not be a lengthy debate, but I think it is important that I respond to the issues raised by Mr Stefaniak.
This goes to the heart of the issue we were faced with in the last Assembly which Ms Dundas' amendment seeks to address. The fundamental issue-as far as I am concerned, this was at the heart of the issue-is that we are talking here about amendments that were made in relation to abortion. It was a conscience issue for both the then government and the then opposition. This is an important principle, as far as I am concerned. If parliaments are going to pursue issues as a matter of conscience, then you do not legislate on a conscience issue through subordinate legislation, you use an act.
The notion and principle of cabinet solidarity is extremely important. It is also important that ministers of state, who have responsibility for the administration of a department or function, accept responsibility for the administration of that function. Here we are talking essentially about the importance of the principle of cabinet solidarity as one of the overarching principles of Westminster-style government, which we, in this place, accept and pursue.
I have to disagree with you, Mr Stefaniak, on the suggestion that members of cabinet who feel uncomfortable about being the signatory to legislation that reflects a government or cabinet position have to simply accept and swallow that discomfort on the basis of the principle that they sign up to the decision of the government and of the cabinet. It is one of the burdens you bear as a cabinet minister-as a member of a cabinet. It is a long-held principle that, as a member of cabinet, you sign up to what the cabinet decides. But you do not go out and say, "My mates in cabinet have done this but I disagree."
Our system does not allow that luxury, or that latitude. That is at the heart of this amendment. If you want to pursue a matter that is characterised as a conscience issue, then do it through amendments to substantive legislation or through an act of the Assembly. Do not do it through regulations, because regulations are made by the executive. Regulations are an expression of executive will. Regulations, as an expression of executive will, require unified government or cabinet support and solidarity.
You cannot sign up to regulations as an executive, as a government, and then say, "Look, this is a mongrel regulation. All my mates in cabinet have signed up to it but I am not going to"-and then walk out onto the street and beat your breast and say, "I am a defender of a principle. The rest of my cabinet colleagues have signed up to this, but I have not." That is not a position which the executive wholeheartedly supports-having two-bob each way, trying to be everything to everybody. That is why we have rules-very good rules, for very good reasons-around the importance of cabinet solidarity as an expression of executive will. It is so the government, at the end of the day, is held accountable for the action.