Inquiry into the Size of the ACT legislative Assembly

The Weston Creek Community Council (WCCC) would like to make a late submission to the Inquiry into the Size of the ACT Legislative Assembly. We apologise for the lateness of the submission and plead that we have only a small number of people to deal with many issues.

15 May 2002

Mr Bill Stefaniak MLA

Chairman

Standing Committee on Legal Affairs

ACT Legislative Assembly

London Circuit

CANBERRA ACT 2601

 

Dear Mr Stefaniak

 

RE: Inquiry into the Size of the ACT Legislative Assembly

 

The Weston Creek Community Council (WCCC) would like to make a late submission to the Inquiry into the Size of the ACT Legislative Assembly. We apologise for the lateness of the submission and plead that we have only a small number of people to deal with many issues.

We support increasing the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly to either 21 or 25 members provided that the electorates are kept equal in size.

We oppose any proposal that would base electorates on “town” centres and any proposal to reduce the status of the ACT Legislative Assembly to a local government body only.

A more detailed submission explanation of the reasons for our support for either a 21 member or 25 member Legislative Assembly is contained in the attached document.

If you have any questions regarding any of the material covered by our submission, the Executive of the WCCC will be pleased to answer them at a mutually convenient time.

 

Yours sincerely

(signed)

Jeff Carl

Chairperson, Weston Creek Community Council

 

 

 

Inquiry into the Size of the ACT Legislative Assembly

 

SUMMARY

 

The Weston Creek Community Council (WCCC) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs which is inquiring into the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly. We apologise for being late with our submission.

We support increasing the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly to either 21 or 25 members provided that the electorates are kept equal in size.

We oppose any proposal that would base electorates on “town” centres and any proposal to reduce the status of the ACT Legislative Assembly to a local government body only.

 

BACKGROUND

 

The WCCC made a submission and gave oral evidence to the Petit Inquiry into the ACT Legislative Assembly. In that submission we agreed with the position that the size of the Assembly should be increased to 21 members with seven members from three equal seats. This position was explained at public meetings of the Community Council and received no objections.

The WCCC regrets that pressure of other business has not allowed us to bring this issue before the public meetings of the Community Council held this year but it will be listed on the agenda for the next meeting to be held on 22 May. If there is any change to the position set out in this submission we will make further written representations.

 

CURRENT POSITION

 

The WCCC believes that the situation has not changed dramatically since we made our submission to the Petit Inquiry. In other words we still believe that the Legislative Assembly should be increased in size to either 21 members or 25 members. The advantages are that the workload of individual members would become more manageable and constituents would have greater access to their members. In addition the greater number of members would enable an expansion in the number of Ministers with corresponding benefits of being able to spread the workload and being able to give full attention to difficult portfolios which require full time attention such as Health. Members would also be able to give more time to Assembly Committees.

 

INCREASE IN SIZE TO TWENTY-ONE MEMBERS

 

If the Committee decided to recommend an increase in the size of the Assembly to 21 members from three electorates it follows that the electoral boundaries between the three existing electorates would have to be redrawn. In that case we would argue, as we have successfully in the past, for Weston Creek to be counted as a whole rather than being split between two electorates. We have a strong community interest and our needs, as being the smallest of the regional areas of Canberra, are different to those of the larger areas. Remaining as whole means that we can voice these concerns more effectively than if we were split. The Weston Creek community does not have a strong preference for which electorate we should be attached to but clearly it would make more sense for Weston Creek to be attached to either Molonglo or to Brindabella rather than to Ginninderra from which we are geographically remote.

 

INCREASE IN SIZE TO TWENTY-FIVE MEMBERS

 

The WCCC understands that some of the submissions you have received have recommended that the Assembly be increased in size to 25 members representing five electorates. This option would involve more boundary changes than the proposal to increase the Assembly size to 21 members. Again we would argue that Weston Creek should be retained as a single area no matter to which electorate we were joined.

Increasing the size of the Assembly to 25 members would bring it in line with the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. The Northern Territory has only approximately half the population of the ACT so 25 members would not be out of line with that jurisdiction and the arrangements applying in State parliaments. The WCCC believes that the ACT Legislative Assembly is at a disadvantage in interstate forums and meetings by being the smallest legislative body when this is not justified on the population numbers.

The only disadvantage that the 25 member proposal has is that it would cost more to provide for 25 members rather than 21.

The Weston Creek community would be happy with either proposal with the condition that Weston Creek remains as a single entity.

 

PROPOSAL TO HAVE 25 MEMBERS AND UNEQUAL ELECTORATES

 

The WCCC understands that there are some who have proposed that there should also be 25 members but that the electorates vary in size from possibly six members to three members depending on the centres they represent. We would oppose this because of our understanding that this model would give greater representation to “town” centres. If this is the case and it was to be adopted then it would place Weston Creek at a considerable disadvantage compared to our current position. We would then become subsidiary to a greater town centre somewhere else and be in the unenviable position that priority would always be given to the needs of the greater part of the electorate rather to our own smaller part.

Our community believes that Weston Creek should be treated the same as other areas even though we may be smaller in population. There are a number of reasons for this. In the first place Weston Creek occupies a much greater area of Canberra than many people imagine in that it extends from the Glenloch Interchange to Kambah on it its eastern boundary and to the west it includes Mt Stromlo. These areas may be developed as urban areas at some time in the future which would dramatically increase our population. (NB we are not advocating this position, but merely noting that this is a possibility.) This increased population would then be faced with the position that political arrangements based on “town” centres that existed in 2002 would then be used to keep the representation of the new larger Weston Creek down to levels prevailing in 2002. We don’t believe that we would be thanked for not opposing this electoral proposal.

In the second place many of the decisions to keep Weston Creek to a smaller size have been for the benefit of Canberra as a whole. For example, the decisions to maintain pine forests in our area and to introduce a moratorium against further development in parts of Weston Creek have been for the benefit of the entire Canberra community. The costs borne by Weston Creek residents have been considerable. These include loss of shops and other services including schools, which have had a greater impact in Weston Creek than almost anywhere else in Canberra. A consequence of the decision to restrain development in Weston Creek has been for the representatives of the larger centres to argue for more services in their areas and for the larger centres to provide services for the smaller areas. This has been to the detriment of Weston Creek. For these reasons, the size of electorates is a sensitive issue for Weston Creek residents.

In the third place there are many political examples where differences in size make no difference to equal treatment. For example, the states and territories receive equal votes at some interstate forums even though the sizes of their populations vary dramatically from around 6 million in the largest jurisdiction to 150,000 in the smallest. Even though the territories do not receive equal representation in the Senate when compared to the states, there are still very dramatic differences between the smallest and largest states and yet they each receive equal representation as a result of their colonial origins. These arrangements have been put in place precisely so that the larger jurisdictions are not able to pass legislation which only reflects their particular interest possibly to the detriment of smaller areas. These arrangements have generally been of benefit to the ACT.

However, this equal representation of smaller jurisdictions, in the Senate, has come at the cost of differing “values” of the votes of individual voters. This, we believe, would be inappropriate for elections to the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The Weston Creek community therefore supports equal sized electorates where votes would have equal value and wherein Weston Creek remains as a single entity.

 

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ONLY MODEL

 

The WCCC also understands that the Committee has received submissions which have argued that the ACT Legislative Assembly be reduced to being only a local government body.

In the first instance the Federal Parliament would have to be persuaded to take on the task of representing the ACT at interstate forums. They may be most reluctant to do this. Even if the Federal Parliament were willing to do this, the ACT would be in a position of having our case argued by people who don’t live in the ACT and who may live in a state which is opposed to the position that we might put to the forum. It also raises the difficulty of how the ACT would decide what point of view to put to interstate forums and whether our views would be accepted by our delegate or not.

The alternative, that of not having any representation at all at interstate forums, is equally unacceptable because there are many state functions (eg motor traffic legislation) which are uniform across the country. It is important that the ACT is able to have its say at meetings called to discuss these functions. Furthermore there is no evidence to suggest that the present arrangements have not worked perfectly well. The WCCC understands that the ACT now has membership of the Australian Local Government Association and the ACT Assembly is able to put appropriate points of view to that body and its forums as it is able to make appropriate contributions to interstate forums. The proposition that the ACT Legislative Assembly be reduced to that of a local government body is clearly unworkable and should not receive further consideration.

The WCCC therefore cannot support this proposition that the ACT Legislative Assembly be reduced to being only a local government body.

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