Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (19 November) . . Page.. 3770 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
The concern is that the unchecked power in the bill gives the registrar the scope to play favourites with particular cooperatives or particular officers of cooperatives. My amendment serves to prevent the arbitrary exercise of discretion by bureaucrats. Although I would hope that we would never have public servants we could not trust, I believe our law should minimise the scope for abuse.
I cannot see an equivalent exemption power in the Cooperative Societies Act, so I presume that exemptions are not commonly required. In fact, I am informed that the current registrar believes it is not likely that he would ever have occasion to use the power. If the registrar does indeed have no need to use the power, then it will not be necessary for guidelines to be developed. However, under my amendment, I believe guidelines must be developed before any exemption can be granted.
There are currently only three cooperatives in the ACT, so the potential impact of this bill, as has been said, appears small. However, the main reason for amending the act is to make the cooperative structure easier and cheaper to adopt. I understand that the registrar is currently developing a plain English step-by-step guide to encourage and assist groups to incorporate as cooperatives. There are thousands of cooperatives currently operating in Victoria, so this does have substantial potential here in the ACT.
Assuming that this style of corporate structure becomes more common, it seems proper to have the same safeguards for administrative decisions affecting them as is the case in other areas of our law. More broadly, I wish the government to be aware that the granting of unchecked powers to bureaucrats is not something that I am comfortable with, and I hope that we will not see similar provisions sneaked in in future bills.
I seek the support of the Assembly for this simple amendment.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (5.29): The government supports the amendment proposed by Ms Dundas concerning the dispensing powers in the act. Earlier in the debate, I moved a number of amendments to ensure that the exercise of the dispensing power is open and transparent. Ms Dundas' amendment attempts to achieve the same end-to constrain corrupt or partial behaviour by a public official by requiring the responsible minister to publish guidelines.
While it is difficult to predetermine the types of matters that might be incorporated by guidelines, I think it is probably fair to suggest that the cooperative principles in clause 8 of the bill might provide a useful start.
The government and I thank Ms Dundas for her proposal.
MS TUCKER(5.30): Ms Dundas has proposed in this amendment to add controls to the registrar's new power to give exemptions to particular sections or whole divisions. She proposes that the minister must make guidelines before the registrar can give exemptions under a number of sections, specifically section 142, which refers to requirements for active membership and entitlements of members; section 241, which relates to management and administration; section 276, which relates to acquisition and disposal of assets; section 289, which is about restrictions on share and voting interests; section 297, which is about restrictions on share offers; section 301, about disclosure statements