Call for referendum to break ACT deadlock

Call for referendum to break ACT deadlock

ACT Boundary Redistribution
ACT Boundary Redistribution

Should the NCCC lend support for a referendum to break the ACT deadlock in regard to ongoing electoral boundary contentions and adequate political representation? The ACT Electoral Commissioner has told the territory’s politicians that if they cannot reach agreement on the right size and composition of the Legislative Assembly, the choice should be put to the people.

The Canberra Times            Thursday                    11 August 2011

 Call for referendum to break ACT deadlock

By Noel Towell Chief Assembly Reporter

ACT voters could be asked to vote in a referendum next year in an effort to break a nine-year deadlock between the territory’s warring politicians.

The ACT Electoral Commissioner has told the territory’s politicians that if they cannot reach agreement on the right size and composition of the Legislative Assembly, then the choice should be put to the people. But the ACT Government is lukewarm on the idea, with Attorney-General Simon Corbell leaving the recommendation out of his legislative response to the commissioner’s reform agenda.

In his submission to an inquiry into the territory’s last election, aimed at streamlining the electoral process, Electoral Commissioner Phillip Green recommends the Assembly “carefully consider” allowing the people of Canberra to choose the right political system for them in a referendum.

A committee of the Assembly agreed in 2002 that the local parliament needed to grow but the chamber has been split, along party lines, on the details of the change. Despite several attempts the deadlock has not advanced. The self-government Act provides that the number of MLAs can be increased by a Federal Government regulation after a resolution of the Assembly or a referendum and Mr Green, in his submission, wants the politicians to consider the second option.

The commissioner said that in the course of the redistribution process currently under way, voters had asked in their submissions for more representatives and less splitting of neighbourhoods between electorates. “Those in the Woden Valley and Gungahlin whose neighbourhoods are split between electorates believe that this leads to a lack of political representation and priority,” Mr Green wrote.

“One reason why no change has been progressed in this area may be that no single option has emerged that has the support of the various parties represented in the Assembly.” But Mr Green has gone back to the early days of self-government for a solution that worked before and he believes can work again.

“The commission notes that a similar impasse occurred in the history of elections in the ACT when the various parties in the Commonwealth Parliament could not agree on an electoral system for the ACT. “To break that impasse, a referendum was held in conjunction with the 1992 election, giving voters the opportunity to choose which electoral system they preferred.”

Mr Green believes that disruption could be minimised by holding a referendum to coincide with the territory election in October next year. “Should the Assembly be of such a mind, a referendum could be held concurrent with the 2012 election, seeking the views of voters as to their preferred size of the Assembly.”

But the commissioner warned that referendums are not cheap and said his organisation would need more money to run any vote. “Any referendum involves a level of additional costs for printing ballot papers, printing and posting to electors cases for and against various options, conducting and information campaign and additional scrutiny costs,” he wrote.

A spokesman for Mr Corbell said yesterday that the idea of a referendum to determine the size of the Assembly had not been ruled out but it was considered that the next election was not the right time.

Note: copyright of the material in this clipping resides with Fairfax Media. Usage permitted in accordance with the Australian Copyright Act 1968, Section 42: Fair dealing for purpose of reporting news. Source: The Canberra Times – 11 August 2011

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