Page 2177 - Week 06 - Monday, 11 May 2009

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It is clear that the staff of the Assembly—the Clerk’s office, chamber support, the committees, attendants and corporate services, the Hansard and Communications team, the library and the parliamentary counsel’s office—have all maintained a strong commitment to building the capacity and upholding the reputation and integrity of the Assembly over the past 20 years.

The principles and practices of the current Assembly have developed over the last six terms, since 1989, through a sequence of minority governments of greater or lesser authority and a majority government of one term. The most recent election, in October 2008, has seen a change in the balance again, for the Seventh Assembly, with three parties now substantially represented.

That election also delivered the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement, which incorporates a number of reforms, including the formal adoption of the Latimer House principles, the investigation into establishing an oversight or integrity branch, a more rigorous approach to answering questions without notice in the Assembly—although sometimes you would not know it—and a commitment to improved freedom of information. The reforms in this agreement give all members the opportunity to make a more substantial contribution to the work of this parliament.

The Greens are committed to making this Assembly work well for the people of Canberra, and I concur with my predecessor, Dr Deb Foskey, when she spoke of what an honour and privilege it was to be a member of the Assembly, to gain such a deep understanding of Canberra’s places and people, to be so involved with and connected to life here. To be a member of this Assembly involves a significant responsibility in a very immediate way regarding people’s lives, as Canberra is still a relatively small community. This intimacy also offers members the chance to make a difference at a personal level.

The Assembly standing and select committees play a very important role in strengthening the connections between active members of our community and the members of the Assembly. However, the challenge is to build on that interest so that there can be more engagement before important decisions are made.

The key role of any legislature is legislation, which is why elected members are often called lawmakers. So it is noteworthy that this Assembly was the first to support the introduction of a human rights act.

The contract that the Assembly has in regard to making law is with the people of the ACT. While we are informed about, and presumably responsive to, changes that are happening in other states and other parts of the world—and the development of the law reflects that—we are accountable to the electors, at the end of the day. Indeed, the Speaker in effect brings ACT legislation into force, not a governor or the Governor-General, and I would say that the commonwealth’s existing power to override any law in the ACT via the Prime Minister and the Governor-General is inappropriate, and this situation needs to be changed.

The purpose of legislation and the rule of law, however, is to emphasise the reciprocity of that agreement between government and citizen—that the law applies to all fairly, that it is designed in response to community need and that it takes account of the social reality of the people it affects.

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