Page 784 - Week 02 - Thursday, 23 February 2012

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Legislative Assembly (Office of the Legislative Assembly) Bill 2012

Mr Rattenbury, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (4.14): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The bill I have just presented seeks to build upon and solidify the institutional independence of the agency that has primary responsibility for providing advice and support to members of this place and to the legislative arm of government more generally. The bill gives full effect to the relevant Latimer House guideline contained in the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Three Branches of Government—namely, that the parliament should be “serviced by a professional staff independent of the regular public service”.

Since its inception in 1989 the Legislative Assembly Secretariat has provided a high level of service and support to the legislature. The organisation, its culture and administrative practices have evolved considerably since the early days of self-government in the ACT when the Secretariat was formed as an administrative unit within the Chief Minister’s Department.

It was not until the passage of the Public Sector Management Act in 1994 that the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly was established at law. At that time, under the act it was the executive on the advice of the relevant standing committee which was responsible for appointing the Clerk. The staff required to assist the Clerk in the exercise of his or her powers were employed under the Public Sector Management Act and the Clerk had the same powers as a chief executive in relation to these staff. The act also made it clear that the Clerk was “not subject to direction by the executive in relation to the performance of his or her duties”.

Amendments to the Public Sector Management Act in 2005 recognised for the first time that the Legislative Assembly Secretariat was a distinct entity within the wider ACT public service. The Secretariat was simply defined as consisting of the Office of the Clerk and the staff required to support the Clerk in the exercise of his or her powers. The 2005 amendments also made a number of changes to the process for appointing a Clerk, providing that it is the Speaker rather than the executive who is responsible for making the appointment.

While important, these incremental steps did not give proper expression to the separation of powers doctrine as it might apply to the primary support agency of the legislative branch of government in the territory. The separation of powers doctrine has a long history in the democratic form of government and in political philosophy, exercising the minds of the great political philosophers ranging from Plato and Aristotle through to John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and James Madison.

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