Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 29 October 2015) . . Page.. 3841 ..
There are a number of changes in the pattern. I am not sure whether members feel that this is a concern or not but in February, March, May and August this year we had double sitting weeks and a single week in June which of course is the budget week. What is being proposed now is that we have only two double week periods, in February and August, and that in fact March, April, May and June will all each be a single week. Normally in the past we had a practice where in the fourth month—it was April, then it was July—we would not have a sitting week, which allowed members to travel, allowed ministerial delegations or whatever.
In effect what this pattern means is that there is a sitting week in every month but July until the end of August. I am not sure whether that has been taken into consideration. We had a practice in the past of double weeks. In April this year there was no sitting week. April encompassed the school holidays. April next year will encompass the school holidays. If you wanted to take some leave or undertake overseas travel it gave you a period of about six weeks where you could travel. This reduces that gap to some three weeks on either side. I am not sure whether that is a consideration but it is a departure from the standard practice.
The other thing is that we have sunk into a pattern of having what I have taken to calling “just in time legislation”. Most of the bills we are discussing this sitting week were tabled last week. If you want to have genuine consultation you ask community groups to put their views, which might involve a meeting of their organisation, a board meeting, and some sort of recommendation back. Because of the way the government is handling its business—of course it is shutting down discussion—I just wonder whether this pattern is designed to facilitate that so that we get more “just in time” legislation which of course means the community is more and more excluded from the legislation process.
They are some reflections on the pattern. It has one fewer than we would normally have but that might indicate a government that has run out of an agenda. Secondly, the pattern is different. The pattern affects the way the Assembly works, it affects the way the community is able to interact with the Assembly and it affects the way that we bring legislation on.
Of course what this new pattern means is that we actually have more sitting periods. This year we had five sitting periods before the end of August. Next year we will have six. So we will actually have more sitting periods but we will have fewer sitting weeks. I think there is somewhat of a dilemma there.
These are matters for consideration. If members want to defer debate until later in the day or to the next sitting to discuss we can of course pass this in November if we want. But it is a departure from the way that we operate and it gives me some concern about the way the government brings on its legislation. It allows less and less consultation and then expects people to stand up and debate often complex issues.
The Statute Law Amendment Bill, which was tabled this morning, will amend some 25 to 30 acts, which will take the shadow minister working on it some time to work through. It will in all likelihood come on in the November sitting. If we are going to continue that practice then perhaps we really need to look at the way we deal with the calendar as well.