Page 4721 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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As soon as practicable after an intergovernmental agreement has been signed the relevant minister will table the full text of the agreement in the Assembly. Following tabling the full text of the agreement will be published on the department’s website in a publicly available register of new intergovernmental agreements that ACT government ministers have signed. However, I note it is possible that these measures will not be appropriate for all intergovernmental agreements.

On rare occasions the government may become party to intergovernmental negotiations or agreements which, by their nature, are confidential or where releasing details would be against the public interest. Agreements pertaining to counter-terrorism arrangements or security planning might fall into this category. In such rare cases where disclosure is against the public interest, the government may, as appropriate, consider providing private briefings to the opposition and to members of the Assembly. I note that a similar provision exists in the act.

These new measures will provide the Assembly and the public with a greater range of information regarding what intergovernmental agreements the ACT government is considering signing up to. In addition, the measures provide the Assembly and the public with greater access to the detail contained in intergovernmental agreements. The net result of repealing the Administration (Interstate Agreements) Act and replacing it with these new measures will give the Assembly and members of the public a greater ability to scrutinise the executive’s dealings with other jurisdictions.

That occurs principally through removing the act’s requirement that negotiations or agreements likely to involve ACT legislation are the only ones reported on. By applying to all negotiations or agreements that it is anticipated the minister will sign, the new measures have a far broader scope. That will occur because many intergovernmental agreements that are to be signed by ministers do not require legislation. Removing the link between likely local legislation and notification also has the advantage of making the whole process simpler to implement.

As I have mentioned, deciding which intergovernmental agreement negotiations require notification under the act could be troublesome as it was often unclear throughout negotiations whether legislation would be required. However, it is much easier to anticipate if a minister is signing the agreement. The new measures will provide members with a regular update of matters that the government is considering signing up to. That also represents an improvement on the current situation where consultation occurs only at the commencement of, or during, often lengthy negotiations, and again shortly before the agreement is signed.

The new approach will give members ample opportunity to seek further information about negotiations of interest to them. These measures will offer those members who are active and interested in representing their constituencies a far greater opportunity to obtain information than do the existing provisions. The Administration (Interstate Agreements) Act introduced a unique and groundbreaking regime for consulting the legislative arm of government regarding executive intentions for intergovernmental agreements.

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