Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2632 ..
Observing that the Parliament had never conceded that any authority other than its Houses should be the ultimate judge of whether or not a document should be produced or information given, the committee rejected the adoption of any mechanism for the resolution of disputes over the production of executive documents, such as by arbitration by the Head of State, which involved concessions to executive authority. The committee further reasoned that it was inherent in the different functions and interests of the Parliament and the Executive that there be areas of contention between them on such matters, that it was impossible to devise any means of eliminating contention between the two without one making major and unacceptable concession to the other, and that adjudication by a third party would be acceptable to neither "in this quintessentially political field". In effect, the committee's conclusion was that matters should be allowed to stand as they were.
That is that houses of assembly or houses of parliament resolve their own issues on the votes on the evening. I think that it is a fundamental precept that if we undo that this evening by adopting Mr Corbell's amendment to the motion we have travelled down that path without due consideration to what we are doing, not just to this jurisdiction, but to the other jurisdictions. We all learn from the collective wisdom and from the precedents set in various jurisdictions round the country. I think that it would be dangerous to adopt what it is that Mr Corbell provides for tonight.
Ms Tucker has put forward a reasonable amendment that allows members to have access to the document quickly and easily. It does not give us copies of the document, which is already impinging on our rights as members and impinging on our ability to do our job, but in this case the opposition has accepted Ms Tucker's amendment simply to move away from the impasse that we may end up with here.
I think that we need to set up a process whereby, either through the Administration and Procedure Committee or some other committee set up to inquire into the process, we actually determine whether or not we as an Assembly want to undermine and undo what the House of Representatives has said. That would be our right. We can change and set our own laws, but I think we need to change and set them with due consideration. I for one would be voting against it, I would have to say, because I think that, once we attempt to start to codify and box in all the things that we might do in a place like this, those things then become open to legal interpretation and all sorts of unwinding or constricting of our powers. I think that that would be a very dangerous thing.
I take members back to page 44 of the standing orders. Standing order 239 says:
A committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records.
That is a power bestowed on it by the Assembly through its standing orders. What effect does Mr Corbell's amendment have on that standing order? What is the limiting sum that we set here tonight on ourselves? I do not think that we are giving ourselves or those who will come after us the opportunity to think about the magnitude of this matter. I think that the current state of affairs whereby the decision would be made here by us and in future by those members present in future assemblies is the path that should be followed. It is the path that the guidance of the House of Representatives gives us. It is the path that the Assembly has gone by for the last almost 15 years and I think that it is the path that we should accept tonight.