Two of the ACT’s senators have questioned each other’s commitment to territory rights following the extension of a federal committee inquiry into the ACT (Self Government) Amendment Bill.
The inquiry was scheduled to hand down its report today (9 August), with many concerned it won’t just force the ACT Government to hold an inquiry into the acquisition of the North Canberra Hospital, but will threaten territory rights.
Senator David Pocock supported a motion in the Senate on Tuesday (8 August) to grant the committee inquiry a month’s extension to further scrutinise the bill itself and examine the submissions, as well as giving it time to hold a public inquiry.
The extension motion passed 31 votes to 30.
Mr Pocock does not support the bill itself, but told Region he couldn’t vote against a motion to have a public hearing given the amount of correspondence his office has received about the issue.
“I ran on a platform of transparency and I have received hundreds of emails from Canberrans, even those who support the Calvary takeover, expressing concern about the process,” he said.
“If we are going to have an inquiry then there should be an opportunity for a public hearing if one is requested.
“I pushed to broaden Senator Canavan’s motion to expand the witness list to bring balance to the testimony but this was defeated.”
Despite his arguments about transparency, fellow ACT Senator and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher has slammed Senator Pocock’s decision to back the extension.
“It’s curious how Senator Pocock could campaign so strongly in favour of territory rights at the election but now be the deciding vote to extend an inquiry into proposed laws from the National Party that would, if passed, diminish ACT rights,” she said.
“I think Canberrans would expect better from a local senator who should stand up for their rights, not seek to facilitate inquiries that want to water them down.”
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also weighed in, disappointed the chance to interfere with territory politics has been extended.
“Senators from other states and territories should not be seeking to interfere in ACT matters. This would never happen to a state government,” he said.
“Prolonging the inquiry into the doomed Canavan Bill is nothing but a further attempt to fuel yet another culture war.”
The inquiry itself needed to be introduced to the Senate twice, and only got over the line after the Coalition and the Greens voted together.
The ACT Government believes the purpose of the bill is to undermine the territory’s right to self-government.
“Territory rights should not be negotiable, and many ACT residents will be disappointed that not all territory senators appear to share that view,” Mr Barr said.
Senator Pocock has hit back at the criticisms against his decision to support the extension, particularly from his colleague.
“Frankly, I think it is a bit disingenuous for Senator Gallagher to question my commitment to standing up for the people of the ACT,” he said.
“I have been the only federal representative standing up and calling for better territory representation, more ambitious action on climate and more Commonwealth investment in the ACT for everything from housing to infrastructure.”
The Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs now has until 6 September to deliver its report, with a date yet to be determined for the public hearing.
More than 70 submissions have been received by the committee regarding this bill, including from Calvary Health Care, the ACT Government, the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and the Health Care Consumers’ Association.