“The response of the ACT government to the recent allegations concerning a member of the Assembly, including strident demands that he resign, lacked any semblance of a commitment to that person’s right to the presumption of innocence,” writes JON STANHOPE.
THE recent scandal centred on the alleged behaviour of a Greens member of the Legislative Assembly has again highlighted the fragility of the ACT’s democracy.
The current ACT government is a formal coalition of members of the Labor and Greens Parties (I have, incidentally, been a member of the ACT branch of the Labor Party for 47 years).
Since Labor and the Greens have formally united to form the current government, it is simply untenable, in my opinion, for acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry to attempt, as she has sought to do, to disown and attack the actions or response of her coalition partner, the Greens, and its leader Shane Rattenbury in respect to their handling of this disturbing issue.
The fact that Ms Berry attacked the Greens leader and his party about their handling of the matter, presumably in order to deflect responsibility from Labor members of the coalition and also, presumably to minimise any blowback or damage to the Labor Party, is unseemly, disloyal and, I think, also cowardly.
It also flies in the face of the fact that Labor and the Greens are, as coalition partners joined at the hip and Labor’s attack on the Greens is in reality also an attack on the government as a whole, meaning itself.
While I don’t wish to digress too far from the point I am seeking to make about the state of our democracy in Canberra, I will say that I am also concerned that the nature of the response of the ACT government (ie the Labor and Greens parties) to the recent allegations concerning a member of the Legislative Assembly, including strident demands that he resign, lacked any semblance of a commitment to that person’s right to the presumption of innocence. It’s a deficiency that may well have consequences down the track.
I have commented previously about the fact that the ACT is unique in Australia in having both a parliament with a single chamber only and no local or third level of government. Tasmania, the only other Australian jurisdiction that employs the Hare Clark voting system, has by comparison an upper house and local government. And while the Queensland parliament does not have an upper house, it does have a robust system of local government. All other jurisdictions have a lower house, an upper house and local government.
I am increasingly concerned that the absence of any such effective system of checks or balances in the ACT is leading inexorably to outcomes and behaviour within the ACT government that are anathema to a strong, responsive and functional democracy.
For example, I have recently had occasion, at the request of Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Service, of which I am an employee, to review the status of each of the pre-election commitments made by the Labor and Greens parties which were of specific relevance to the Aboriginal community before the last ACT election three years ago.
I identified a total of 34 such promises or commitments a majority of which, so far as I have been able to determine, have not been actioned. Among those lying dormant, forgotten or simply abandoned are the following:
- Fund a $32 million, 80-bed Reintegration Centre at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
- Repeal and replace the Namadgi Agreement.
- Support First Nations families with claims of connection to country in the ACT to submit native title claims.
- Establish a Ngunnawal Language Centre with dedicated full-time staff. 5. Move the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs into the Chief Minister’s Directorate.
- Fully implement all the recommendations of the Our Booris Our Way review.
- Embed the policy of self-determination.
- Give First Nations community control over Boomanulla Oval, the Yarramundi Cultural Centre and the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm.
- Fund the establishment of a First Nations-controlled indigenous community housing corporation.
- Fund a dedicated community-controlled drug and alcohol withdrawal service.
- Audit all ACT government funding for First Nations services and programs to determine whether promised outcomes are being delivered. 12. Undertake discussions on a treaty with traditional custodians.
- Implement all recommendations of the We Don’t Shoot our Wounded Report to improve domestic and family violence responses.
- Deliver all action plans contained in the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement.
- Hire 400 more doctors, nurses and health professionals.
- Ensure all Aboriginal children have timely access to ear, nose and throat outpatient appointments and elective surgery.
Many of these promises were made separately by the Labor and Greens parties despite the fact that they govern as a formal coalition, which it is clear they each use as an excuse for not being bound to honour each other’s promises.
But to be fair, they did all vote “yes” in the recent referendum.
Jon Stanhope was ACT chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. Read more of his columns on citynews.com.au
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