Canberra’s politicians have been working hard to expand the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Last year we saw a barrage of announcements leading towards the expansion of the Assembly from three electorates with a total of 17 seats to five electorates with a total of 25 seats which will take effect from the October 2016 election.
The expansion required the support of the Canberra Liberals who voted as a party to back the Labor proposition. The expansion of the Legislative Assembly will cost over $9 million in additional wages, which takes into consideration the additional increases announced by the Chief Minister recently.
It is unknown at this point where all of these new politicians will be stationed as the Legislative Assembly is quite a small place. Whether the new MLAs will be based in new offices outside of the existing Legislative Assembly or whether the existing building will be reconstructed is unknown. What we do know is that it’s going to cost a lot of money – a lot of our money.
On top of a six per cent pay increase and an increase in staff levels introduced last year by former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Chief Minister Andrew Barr recently announced an additional increase to MLA staffing levels. In his office, he has reinstated the role of Executive Chief of Staff which will attract a salary of $250,000.
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Hanson will receive an extra $108,000 while Labor and Liberal backbenches will receive an extra $70,000 for either additional staff or additional staff wages (the staff allowance is spent at the MLA’s discretion).
Additionally, the ACT Government will increase public funding for ACT elections, effective from 2016, from $2 per vote to $8 per vote. That means your vote for a major party will put $8 into the pockets of the major parties – this is an unprecedented increase.
Cost increases to ACT taxpayers have been introduced carefully and in a staged manner, and we will see further increases announced this year. My question is whether Labor has made the case for an expansion of government and an increase in costs, or if they have chosen not to make the case simply because they have the support of the Canberra Liberals and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it?
My second question is why the hell are the Canberra Liberals supporting a bigger government? It is a doctrine of liberalism to support smaller Government. The only conclusion is that the modern Liberal party couldn’t be further from the true ideals of liberalism if it tried. My fear is that the Canberra Liberals don’t even understand the word ‘liberalism’, and don’t care either. The unhealthy reality for democracy in Australia’s capital is that Canberra has no credible and truly liberal opposition. We should be the exemplar of a healthy and vibrant democracy… but we are not.
In regards to the 2016 election, many independents and small parties are rubbing their hands with glee in the hope that a larger Assembly will increase their chances of winning a seat. It won’t; it will be harder for them to win a seat. The five-electorate/five-seat arrangement and the additional public monies flowing to the major parties only serve to solidify their grip on power, stifling a fairer and more diverse representation for the people of the ACT.
A federal MP once asked me, “Steve, if you have one party and one policy what do you call that?”
“A dictatorship,” I answered.
“If you have two parties and one policy, what do you call that?”
“A dictatorship,” I answered.