Page 872 - Week 03 - Thursday, 10 March 2005

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Industrial manslaughter legislation

MS MacDONALD: Mr Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Chief Minister, Mr Stanhope. You would be aware that the Howard government has introduced legislation into the federal parliament—yesterday, in fact—which seeks to undermine the territory’s historic industrial manslaughter law. Chief Minister, what right has the commonwealth to intervene in the democratic process in the ACT?

Mrs Dunne: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I ask for your ruling on the capacity in which the Chief Minister is answering this question about commonwealth powers.

MR SPEAKER: I think it also goes to the question of the Chief Minister who really is part of the democratic process in the ACT. That was a fundamental part of the question. I see no point of order.

Mrs Dunne: On the point of order, Mr Speaker: the question was: what powers does the commonwealth have to address this? The question was directly about what powers the commonwealth has to do this. The Chief Minister does not have any responsibility for commonwealth powers.

MR SPEAKER: I can fix this pretty quickly. If the member chooses to go and have a look at the administrative arrangements, they will show that the Chief Minister is responsible for intergovernmental relations.

MR STANHOPE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am aware that yesterday the commonwealth Minister for Workplace Relations, Mr Andrews, did introduce into the House of Representatives amending legislation designed to override in significant part the ACT’s 2003 industrial manslaughter law. That law, of course, was groundbreaking law and, indeed, was not without some controversy. Indeed, the commonwealth government at the time expressed its dismay that the ACT would proceed with the new law—a law that is simply designed to promote safer workplaces within the ACT.

I have to say that it is also noted, of course, that the legislation was vigorously opposed by the ACT branch of the Liberal Party and, indeed, by members of the business community, all of whom, of course, claimed at the time that there would be a procession of businesses and businessmen out of the territory. That simply has not occurred.

Mr Pratt: It certainly did not encourage business confidence.

MR SPEAKER: I warn you, Mr Pratt.

MR STANHOPE: The scaremongering that accompanied the passage of the legislation simply has since shown to be what it was—shallow political posturing.

To answer the question: yes, the commonwealth does have the right, under the Australian constitution, to override legislation introduced in this parliament and does have the right, under the Australian Constitution, to override the democratic processes of the ACT. That is the big picture that we are talking about here. That is the issue at the heart of this debate. Irrespective of what anybody in this place thought about the legislation,

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