Page 4717 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (10.42): I will not be supporting the Administration (Interstate Agreements) Repeal Bill 2005 as it does not sustain the government’s assertion that it will improve the way in which the Assembly is informed or consulted with in respect of interstate agreements. I would be very interested in knowing more about the background to this bill—how it relates, for instance, to federal government concerns for security and how that relates to security in practice.

In Mr Stanhope’s tabling speech he suggested that the bill reflected improved consultation measures on interstate agreements. The Greens do not agree with this statement, as the changes will actually diminish consultation before an agreement is reached and only enhance notification of finalised interstate agreements. I will read the object of the Administration (Interstate Agreements) Act 1997, which the government is seeking to revoke. It says:

The object of this act is to impose on Ministers duties to inform and consult with other members of the Legislative Assembly in regard to interstate agreements, so as to protect the freedom of the Assembly to carry out its legislative deliberations without being subjected to necessity or compulsion due to the actions of the executive, and shall be construed accordingly.

This object was achieved by requiring relevant ministers to notify the Assembly as soon as possible of an impending negotiation; to inform in writing each member of the Legislative Assembly of the nature, timetable, expected legislative changes and position of the minister on any impending agreement; to consult with the relevant Legislative Assembly standing committee about the agreement; to only sign on to the interstate agreement once the relevant committee’s recommendations have been received; and, finally, to inform in writing within seven days each member of the Legislative Assembly when the interstate agreement has been signed on to.

I acknowledge that these existing requirements may at times have appeared unduly onerous to the government or the public service. I also acknowledge that the major parties have not used this legislation which is available to them. My office cannot find any instances of the current or last Assembly referring an interstate agreement to a committee, apart from Kerrie Tucker pushing for the public accounts committee to report on the General Agreement on Trading Services, or the GATS, with special reference to the ACT.

I am aware that the scrutiny of bills committee is notified of interstate agreements and may choose to examine them. I note that it has not done so in my term. Despite the lack of use of the provisions of this legal legislation, it provided a legislative mechanism to ensure that the government remained transparent to the Assembly in its decisions. It is a well-rehearsed argument that even if, for instance, the present government can be trusted to act in the public interest and to consult widely, future governments cannot necessarily be trusted to do this. Therefore, processes, as well as outcomes, are absolutely crucial to ensure that the public can retain its trust in government.

Sadly, this bill seems to weaken the processes which ensure transparency and consultation. By requiring consultation with standing committees, the present system ensures an opportunity for Assembly members to inform the decision-making process.

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