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Canberra’s politicians: Bigger government at all costs

By Steven Bailey - 13 January 2015 37

legislative-assembly

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.

 

What’s Your opinion?


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37 Responses to
Canberra’s politicians: Bigger government at all costs
John Hargreaves 11:16 am 15 Jan 15

farnarkler said :

John, you talk about people like me having a go at the size of the legislative assembly and what the members actually do, however, I remember Canberra pre 1988 and things were doing just fine. ACTION got us to and from the interchanges and our bins were emptied on a regular basis. Going back a further ten years and 63.75% of Canberrans did not want self government. As for what my mla does, I wouldn’t have a clue who he or she is. I don’t receive any communication from them and only hear of the ones who make the headlines.

I too remember those days when we had a toothless House of Assembly and an MP who couldn’t vote in the House of Reps. I remember the campaign Taxation without Representation. I remember being ruled from Parliament House by a person I could not approach, whose anti-Canberra utterances were embarrassing. I remember the deteriorating roads in Belco in the 1970s.

I also remember the ACT receiving no financial consideration for ageing assets like roads and buildings upon copping self government.

I voted against self government and now believe my position was wrong. If residents here don’t like government decisions they can and have voted them out. You can’t do that with a minister form another state in a parliament where we don’t get one vote one value.

watto23 9:39 pm 14 Jan 15

Steven Bailey said :

Thanks guys – they’re all really insightful comments. I must say that I am happy to live in a jurisdiction that only has two tiers of government. Imagine the waste if we had a third!! I do however think that the ACT would be better served with more federal senators. That a population of 500,000 in Tasmania attracts the representation of 12 senators and a population of around 380,000 in the ACT of attracts the representation of 2 is grossly unfair – especially in a two-party parliamentary system. It means that the people of the ACT have virtually no say on federal issues, and that the role of an ACT senator is diminished by the one-for-me-one-for-you attitude of the major parties. Thoughts?

Agree that we are under represented in the Senate. NT was offered statehood and rejected it on the basis they still wouldn’t get a full 12 senators. I don’t believe we deserve say 12 senators, but i’d like to see the senate go to a system of 6 senators per state or territory and then the extra senators get distributed based on population.

Another idea I had was for the senate to operate like a referendum. Each states senators would vote on a policy. If say NSW voted 8 to 4 then that would be a vote in favour of the policy. Get 5 of the 8 state/territory to vote in favor and the legislation is passed by the senate.

farnarkler 5:54 pm 14 Jan 15

John, you talk about people like me having a go at the size of the legislative assembly and what the members actually do, however, I remember Canberra pre 1988 and things were doing just fine. ACTION got us to and from the interchanges and our bins were emptied on a regular basis. Going back a further ten years and 63.75% of Canberrans did not want self government. As for what my mla does, I wouldn’t have a clue who he or she is. I don’t receive any communication from them and only hear of the ones who make the headlines.

HiddenDragon 5:39 pm 14 Jan 15

miz said :

It’s hard to see how more MLAs will make any difference, because the problem is the flawed structure of our self-government. Sure, more MLAs may help the existing MLAs share their workload in the short term, but those heavy workloads are a contrivance of running a Westminster system with ‘Departments’ instead of an economical council-like structure (with an add-on State-level directorate to cover those elements). In local Councils, all Councillors are involved in governing (there are no Opposition bums). Yet most Councillors, remarkably, are part time.
The ‘let’s have more MLAs’ solution is like trying to fix a house’s poor foundations by adding more storeys – the cracks will only get worse.

It’s funny how other local governments seems to manage to keep grass mowed, repair roads without covering them in car-damaging gravel, manage road closures without dramas, collect hard rubbish and green waste, and clean off public graffiti as a matter of course, and for a lot less than the ACT Government costs us.

And ain’t our town looking scruffy at the moment.

Indeed it is (looking scruffy) – not much to show for those rapidly rising rates.

gazket 3:48 pm 14 Jan 15

it’s the biggest jobs for the boys legally approved scam in history.

Who wants a pay rise and give their mate a government tax payer funded job with an unbelievably good superannuation scheme .

Aye!!! .. I think the Aye’s have it.

more politicians, more red tape, more new laws, more new taxes .
Do they really think the community want this.

Masquara 12:43 pm 14 Jan 15

John Hargreaves said :

The only thing I agree with is the need for more senators to show parity with other jurisdictions, but would far prefer to abolish the senate altogether.

On the question of the number of MLAs, I refer rioters to my item on the disparity of representation with other jurisdictions and the actual numbers per elected rep in Tasmania. This disparity is absurd when you consider that we have a stronger economy, and a right to representation just like the rest. That our elected reps have 13,500 or so punters to look after is just wrong, if the other eight jurisdictions are the norm.

On top of that I remind Steven that Tasmania doesn’t have a three tiered governance, it has a five tiered governance. It has senators and members of the reps, it has an upper and a lower house and it has councils. We have two. The ACT is the only jurisdiction to have only two.

The only alternatives are to have the ACT governed by NSW and that would be an unmitigated disaster, or governed by a dictator like minister in the federal government. Remember Hodgeman? The Mouth from the South? This was his nickname. Or do you remember Ralph Hunt from Queensland?

People here should stop whingeing about the size of the Assembly and start talking about the quality in it. If people are unhappy with that quality then change the people in it. Have some courage and stand if you think you are of better quality. This comment is directed at others, not Steven, cos I know he intends to be a starter.

I am also irritated by the uninformed bagging of MLAs and their workload by people who have not the slightest idea of what that workload is and in all probability have never had a casual conversation with an MLA in their lives.

Care to comment on the Joyce Burch pokies issue John? Much more current and pertinent.

John Hargreaves 10:54 am 14 Jan 15

The only thing I agree with is the need for more senators to show parity with other jurisdictions, but would far prefer to abolish the senate altogether.

On the question of the number of MLAs, I refer rioters to my item on the disparity of representation with other jurisdictions and the actual numbers per elected rep in Tasmania. This disparity is absurd when you consider that we have a stronger economy, and a right to representation just like the rest. That our elected reps have 13,500 or so punters to look after is just wrong, if the other eight jurisdictions are the norm.

On top of that I remind Steven that Tasmania doesn’t have a three tiered governance, it has a five tiered governance. It has senators and members of the reps, it has an upper and a lower house and it has councils. We have two. The ACT is the only jurisdiction to have only two.

The only alternatives are to have the ACT governed by NSW and that would be an unmitigated disaster, or governed by a dictator like minister in the federal government. Remember Hodgeman? The Mouth from the South? This was his nickname. Or do you remember Ralph Hunt from Queensland?

People here should stop whingeing about the size of the Assembly and start talking about the quality in it. If people are unhappy with that quality then change the people in it. Have some courage and stand if you think you are of better quality. This comment is directed at others, not Steven, cos I know he intends to be a starter.

I am also irritated by the uninformed bagging of MLAs and their workload by people who have not the slightest idea of what that workload is and in all probability have never had a casual conversation with an MLA in their lives.

Steven Bailey 10:00 am 14 Jan 15

Thanks guys – they’re all really insightful comments. I must say that I am happy to live in a jurisdiction that only has two tiers of government. Imagine the waste if we had a third!! I do however think that the ACT would be better served with more federal senators. That a population of 500,000 in Tasmania attracts the representation of 12 senators and a population of around 380,000 in the ACT of attracts the representation of 2 is grossly unfair – especially in a two-party parliamentary system. It means that the people of the ACT have virtually no say on federal issues, and that the role of an ACT senator is diminished by the one-for-me-one-for-you attitude of the major parties. Thoughts?

watto23 9:37 am 14 Jan 15

farnarkler said :

I really hope the additional 8 mlas are from obscure and bizarre parties, just to show how absurd the ACT government is. Bring back the Party party party party and the Sun ripened warm tomato party.Only 100 members and a constitution needed.

Unfortunately not. we’ll get at least 10 Labor, most likely 10 Liberals and then 5 to be spread around everyone. Unless people realise they can vote for minor parties and get rid of the idea that their vote will just go to Labor or Liberal anyway. If a large proportion of voters do not vote for the major parties the votes most likely won’t get that far in the preferences.

switch 9:32 am 14 Jan 15

farnarkler said :

I really hope the additional 8 mlas are from obscure and bizarre parties, just to show how absurd the ACT government is. Bring back the Party party party party and the Sun ripened warm tomato party.Only 100 members and a constitution needed.

Let’s have a Riotact Party!

farnarkler 8:17 pm 13 Jan 15

I really hope the additional 8 mlas are from obscure and bizarre parties, just to show how absurd the ACT government is. Bring back the Party party party party and the Sun ripened warm tomato party.Only 100 members and a constitution needed.

miz 7:19 pm 13 Jan 15

It’s hard to see how more MLAs will make any difference, because the problem is the flawed structure of our self-government. Sure, more MLAs may help the existing MLAs share their workload in the short term, but those heavy workloads are a contrivance of running a Westminster system with ‘Departments’ instead of an economical council-like structure (with an add-on State-level directorate to cover those elements). In local Councils, all Councillors are involved in governing (there are no Opposition bums). Yet most Councillors, remarkably, are part time.
The ‘let’s have more MLAs’ solution is like trying to fix a house’s poor foundations by adding more storeys – the cracks will only get worse.

It’s funny how other local governments seems to manage to keep grass mowed, repair roads without covering them in car-damaging gravel, manage road closures without dramas, collect hard rubbish and green waste, and clean off public graffiti as a matter of course, and for a lot less than the ACT Government costs us.

And ain’t our town looking scruffy at the moment.

HiddenDragon 6:23 pm 13 Jan 15

If the extra expenditure produced markedly greater accountabilty to the public, and broader and better informed debate about the priorities in the ACT’s multi-billion dollar annual budget, it may well be worthwhile – but that is unlikely. Far more likely is that it will be more of the same – more Ministers and government MLAs mouthing glib platitudes and pretending everything is just fine (nothing to see here…), and more non-government MLAs waving their arms about in frustration and, sometimes, impotent rage.

The money would be better spent on increased audit resources and/or an ICAC style outfit, or on reverting to a three yearly election cycle (snowflake’s chance in hell, I know) – which would reduce the tendency to airy arrogance which comes from controlling a unicameral legislature for four years.

As to “…My second question is why the hell are the Canberra Liberals supporting a bigger government?…” – this, after all, is the national company town and theme park for Australian democracy and bureaucracy – as the old saying goes, “when in Rome…”.

dungfungus 6:04 pm 13 Jan 15

rommeldog56 said :

Well said Steven.

If your facts and figures re salary increases are correct, all ACT Ratepayers should view these issues with considerable concern.

True, unlike Light Rail and Tripling of Annual Rates, I can not recall the possible expansion of the Legislative Assembly being raised by Liberal or Labor as an issue at the last ACT election ?

In any event, with a jurisdiction and revenue raising base as small as Canberra is (and apart some some growth in population, I can not see that keeping up with all the expenditures that the ACT Gov’t is rolling out), one would have to wonder what all these expenditure increases in aggregate will mean to Annual Rates and other ACT Gov’t fees/charges/levies in a few years.

Is it any wonder the previous ACT Chief Minister openly supported an increase in the GST !

And anyone who thinks an increased number of labor/Liberal/Greens MLAs will mean better representation – think again. It will just mean easier access to the party political spin.

IMHO, Labor/Liberal/Greens should be condemned for supporting and progressing these changes. I just live in hope that ACT Voters/Ratepayers are not too apathetic to see what is happening here.

Agree with that totally.
The ACT Legislative Assembly has become a giant sheltered workshop.
The Canberra Liberals have convinced themselves that they will never win another election so they are settling in for the long haul and a comfortable pension in “Pleasantville”.
The nexus between the ALP and trade unions will ensure Labor continues to win elections and the expansion of the assembly was a deal between the main parties to make it very difficult for the minor parties to win any seats.
It is all downhill from now on. We will need a Euro-type bailout soon.

rommeldog56 1:20 pm 13 Jan 15

Well said Steven. If your facts and figures re salary increases are correct, all ACT Ratepayers should view these issues with considerable concern.

True, unlike Light Rail and Tripling of Annual Rates, I can not recall the possible expansion of the Legislative Assembly being raised by Liberal or Labor as an issue at the last ACT election ?

In any event, with a jurisdiction and revenue raising base as small as Canberra is (and apart some some growth in population, I can not see that keeping up with all the expenditures that the ACT Gov’t is rolling out), one would have to wonder what all these expenditure increases in aggregate will mean to Annual Rates and other ACT Gov’t fees/charges/levies in a few years.

Is it any wonder the previous ACT Chief Minister openly supported an increase in the GST !

And anyone who thinks an increased number of labor/Liberal/Greens MLAs will mean better representation – think again. It will just mean easier access to the party political spin.

IMHO, Labor/Liberal/Greens should be condemned for supporting and progressing these changes. I just live in hope that ACT Voters/Ratepayers are not too apathetic to see what is happening here.

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