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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (23 October) . . Page.. 3987 ..



have stood in this chamber and lamented that many in the ACT community are disengaged, uninterested or uninformed of the work that we do here in the Assembly. The proposal to move to four-year terms will only make this worse. Elections engage the public interest in the political system and frequent elections enhance the continuity of public debate between election cycles. Elections should not be viewed as some sort of impediment to good governance. As Alfred E. Smith famously said:

All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.

This proposal put forward by the majority of the Legal Affairs Committee is not about more democracy. It is, I believe, about less democracy. It is about reducing the opportunities of the people of Canberra to choose their representatives and to change their government. And it is about keeping people in positions of power and privilege for longer periods of time.

The arguments that have been put forward to increase the length of the Assembly to four years are not very strong. As the government admitted itself in its submission, four of the seven supposed benefits are essentially unprovable. These include encouraging governments to introduce longer-term policies, enhancing business confidence, enhancing the representative function of members and raising the standard of political debate. I think the term of the Fourth Assembly demonstrates the falsehood of these unprovable theories. The last Assembly was nearly four years long-and do members really believe that the last Assembly was a model of stability, long-term planning and a higher standard of representation and debate? That is not my impression of what happened in the last Assembly.

In fact the length of the term of the Assembly probably has little to do with improving government outcomes. If we want to improve these outcomes, then let us get together and talk about the issues and work out strategies to fix them. This might involve more communication, more information and greater involvement of MLAs at earlier levels of decision making. Changing the length of term will probably have only marginal, if any, effect.

The other issue that seems to be pushed is the question of cost. We now have evidence that this proposal will save about $125,000 a year. That is about 65c for every voter. Given the recent $140 million surplus and the ACT government's spending totalling over $2 billion, I wonder what impact we really can expect from an extra $125,000. What are you going to give the people of Canberra in return for reducing elections by 25 per cent? And, as Ms Tucker has already said, we really need to be questioning what price we put on democracy.

Equally, government members have brought up a number of issues that I believe are best solved by other means. The issue of committees is a case in point. I agree that there need to be improvements in the way committee reports are implemented and how we produce changes in policy by committee work. But the issue here is how the communication channels are working. Where is the reporting of decisions that are implemented? Where is the commitment of government to carry committee recommendations between assemblies? We have already had debate in the term of the Fifth Assembly about how we can move this forwards. These are the initiatives that will improve the implementation of

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