Page 2482 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 1 July 2008
committee in Wellington last year, I was impressed with two things in particular: the human rights scrutiny of bills over there, which is reported upon in detail, unlike our throwaway “compatibility” statements, and the exhaustive process of committee inquiry into legislation. However, while we have only 17 members, I believe it would be very difficult for us to require every bit of legislation to go before the appropriate committee, although I do believe that we are long overdue to have better reporting on human rights compatibility.
The government still has an uneven approach to consultation on legislation. For instance, the bill that we may be debating today on housing assistance—we may not be debating it today; we may be debating it on Thursday—did not benefit from advice from the peak body on housing in the ACT: Shelter was not consulted. And remember that Shelter has been made responsible for community housing and given extra funding to take on that role. It might have been forgivable if ACTCOSS had been consulted, but it was not.
However, the other bill that we are debating today—the Children and Young People Bill—has been through an exhaustive process of consultation. Sure, it is long and legalistic, but my office could find little to amend after our own thorough reading and consultation. While we have concerns, we are saving them until we see how the act works on the ground. I refer to whether the alcohol and drug and mental health checks for parents called for in section 487 are onerous and incompatible with our human rights legislation, and whether children are adequately consulted about their future.
One might say that the planning and development legislation voted on earlier this year went through an exhaustive consultation process, too, but I would maintain that some groups were listened to more than others and that many people who will be affected do not at this point even know that the legislation exists.
It seems to me that there is a very spotted record between agencies and across departments in the government. I would commend the government’s own community engagement manual to everybody. If that were followed, we would not be standing here today and complaining about consultation.
Let us look a little further at consultation on planning decisions. I have spoken at length about this topic in the Assembly. With the last iteration of the planning and development legislation, we have seen the death of proper community consultation on planning issues in the ACT. Never mind that the minister will cite statutory processes; we have seen ample evidence that the public on the whole will not find out about issues that concern them until the yellow notice goes up on the fence. Even then, they might not be bothered looking it up on the internet to find out how it affects them, so they will be taken by surprise when the new building goes up, or when they find out that the consultation period is over, or when they find out that they have no right to complain about it at all.
While I am on this topic, why don’t advertisements in the Canberra Times—expensive as we know them to be—tell the reader the location of the development application that they are advertising? Why doesn’t the yellow sign on the construction site-to-be say what kind of development is planned? It is hardly a transparent communication process.