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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (22 October) . . Page.. 3901 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

having asked people to choose the least-worst option, that was somehow interpreted in any summary of the consultation as support for that least-worst option. There really must be the opportunity for people to say that no change is their preferred option, otherwise the process could be easily manipulated to suit the agenda of the federal government.

The other comment I would make about this consultative process is that, considering how small the turnout was, there needs to be a rethink of how the meetings are advertised. The point was also made by people at that meeting that the environment was intimidating. Good consultative process requires careful thinking about not only how meetings are advertised, but also how they are run. To be fair, I point out that the facilitator did summarise the positions of other political players. The facilitator summarised Mr Crean's latest proposal and the proposals of the Democrats and Harradine, but the point made by people at this meeting was that alternative positions were not canvassed in the discussion paper and they were concerned that the facilitator was so obviously supportive of the agenda, which he said he was. He was quite open about that and people were very concerned about that.

In conclusion, I point out again that, even though the growing support for minor parties and independents may be uncomfortable for the major parties, that is democracy. The onus is on them to look at their own performance, not reduce their accountability to the people of Australia by removing important checks and balances.

It may be that we take the qualities and benefits of the ACT Legislative Assembly for granted, or even demean it sometimes because self-government was not initially supported. It is true that there have been a few moments of chaos here, but it seems very clear that that has been only because this parliament has been one of minority government, that the crossbench plays an important and constructive role with the government and the opposition, that we do work together in general in a collegiate manner, that reasonable resources are available for backbench, opposition and crossbench business, that the committee system is generally non-partisan, and that business is not rammed through by an inflexible, self-serving government, as appears to happen in most parliaments where the majority rule is so firmly established.

At present, the presumption of politics and of the media coverage of politics is that everything is a question of numbers and that it is weak to tolerate difference in your party or in parliament. Perhaps that explains why we are becoming less tolerant as a society. I would say that Canberra benefits greatly from the effectiveness and the constructive approach taken in this place. The accountability levels are high, but government nonetheless is able to govern.

The proposed changes to the Senate clearly illustrate thwarted ambition. If those politicians could shift their focus from the glorious ambition of driving the entire agenda of parliament and take a lesson from the ACT that a somewhat more modest and collaborative aim serves the community better, we could see proportional representation in the House of Representatives, minority governments and a coalition of partners with distinctive voices between them delivering better and more democratic government for Australia.

MS DUNDAS (11.40): I will be supporting Ms Tucker's motion as I too support the important role of the Senate.

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