Expanded ACT Government Ministry a win for democracy

Rebecca Vassarotti 29 August 2018 13
ACT Legislative Assembly

The expansion of the ACT Legislative Assembly will contribute to more effective governance. File photo.

With the turmoil of federal politics last week, you could be forgiven for missing the announcement that the ACT Government has expanded its Ministry – adding new portfolios and an eighth Minister to the Cabinet. This has been flagged for some time as the next part of the evolution of our local parliamentary governance, after the expansion of the Legislative Assembly from 17 to 25 members in 2016.

While the general community may not have a strong sense of the need for this expansion, this does have the potential to improve political decision-making in this town. This change will mean that the many topics our Government needs to be across can be shared by a larger number of Government members.

It is always important to remember how our political system compares to the rest of the country. While we are a small jurisdiction, we still have most of the responsibilities of the other States and Territories, just with fewer resources to manage them. Even with the expanded Assembly, we have some of the lowest levels of representation at a state and local level. In particular, here in the ACT we have 25 political representatives, which is the same as the Northern Territory with their population edging towards a quarter of a million people, and much less than the 40 representatives in Tasmania with its population of around half a million people. We are all very aware of our lack of representation at a national level which sees our status as a Territory afford us only two Senators to each of the State’s 12 Senators.

The results of our system mean that we expect our local political representatives to take on a very wide range of responsibilities on our behalf. Our system of government is unique in that it combines the functions of local government and state responsibilities, thus removing a whole layer of government. This style of government has aimed to strike the balance of governing very local issues of rubbish and pavements up to the big issues such as education and healthcare. While this approach has great potential in relation to ensuring consistency and integration, it also means that political decision-makers have a huge volume of work to be across, as well as a need to understand the depth of issues, and the need to consider localised impact as well as jurisdiction-wide implications.

The wide array of responsibilities that are required of our political decision-makers is often displayed when listening to local ABC’s flagship segment Chief Minister’s Talkback, where the Chief Minister is quizzed on a huge array of issues – from the detail of a street intersection to the complexity of a Council of Australian Government (COAG) negotiation. While the new Ministerial arrangements still see members of Cabinet with a number of Ministerial portfolios, this will now be shared with an additional member.

It’s easy to be cynical about the value of politicians. Indeed, a report released earlier this year by the Australia Institute found people wanted fewer politicians. This sentiment is likely to be even higher after recent events in federal politics. I am often surprised how few people are really engaged with our local political scene. In fact, its still common to hear people dismissing our Legislative Assembly as nothing more than the local council, actively questioning the need and expense of a Legislative Assembly and pointing to the fact that Canberrans voted against self-government prior to its introduction as proof that we don’t need this system. In contrast, my view is that, like any other community, Canberrans should have the right to be democratically governed, to elect the representatives that will make political decisions that will impact on our daily lives and have the same rights of self-determination and decision making.

In relation to the recent announcement around a new Minister and some new Ministerial responsibilities, I am particularly interested to see the addition of a portfolio of social inclusion and equality to the Chief Minister’s range of responsibilities. This is a chance to bring the increasing inequality that is creeping into this town into focus and introduce meaningful programs that can reverse this trend – in areas such as homelessness, income inequality, and for marginalised communities. I will be watching closely how this may increase the Government’s ability to ensure that all Canberrans are able to share in the benefits of this beautiful city and we continue to make sure that this community is the most inclusive, progressive and supportive community in Australia.

What do you think about the expansion of the ACT Government Ministry? Do you think it will improve the quality of political decision making in Canberra?

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13 Responses to Expanded ACT Government Ministry a win for democracy
Rebecca Vassarotti Rebecca Vassarotti 10:59 am 05 Sep 18

Thanks all for the lively input. Some contributors still seem to question the workload of Ministers. While it is right to reflect that the geographical issues that face some of the other small jurisdictions are not something the ACT Government needs to deal with, there is a lack of economy of scale that we are up against here. I see some of the dangers of Minister being spread too thin include an over-reliance on the bureaucracy as the sole source of advice, challenges in engaging with the complexity of the issues they are dealing with because of sheer volume, and potential conflicts across portfolio responsibilities. I do believe all our Assembly members are trying to do a good job and as our governance matures it will require changes. The expansion of the Assembly was supported by all parties and I continue to believe that a robust democracy is something that Canberrans need and deserve. It does cost money but wise investment in good decision-making processes should deliver the services and amenities that we need to live in this great city.

    g210 g210 2:43 pm 05 Sep 18

    “The expansion of the Assembly was supported by all parties”
    … because they all stood to gain – both financially and politically. How many work places get to vote to increase their own staffing levels?
    “wise investment in good decision-making processes should deliver the services and amenities that we need”
    … so does the past 30 years of self government confirm this assumption?
    Take a look at the basket case which is our public health system. The fix – let’s throw more money at it and create another level of bureaucracy.
    Our how about the truly inept ‘forward planning’ of road infrastructure.

g210 g210 12:56 pm 04 Sep 18

More politicians. More ministers. More bureaucrats. All while our services continue to deteriorate. And let’s not forget – More opportunity to point the finger at someone else… And what of the financial cost?

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 5:14 pm 03 Sep 18

Well Rebecca, if you really believe what you’re writing, then you’ll believe anything. There may be some slight population comparisons with Tasmania and NT but our land area is nowhere either of those. We have a couple of hospitals to administer and a lot of roads and footpaths that the current ACT Government can’t even maintain now, despite record revenue flows. As for the new Ministry, what a load of social engineering that looks like. It seems to me that, far from being justified by an excessive workload, the current workload could be reduced readily by having a hard look at what Canberra needs rather than what its left Labor/Greens government chooses to dally in. Perhaps we could even get some much-needed rates relief in the unlikely event this ever happened. Given your uncritical acceptance of all of this, Rebecca, it’s not hard to tell you’re a Green.

franky22 franky22 4:33 pm 02 Sep 18

What a load of waffle. And when did social inclusion become a thing – its just the latest bureaucrat buzzword in fact a weasel word.
The ACT Government has had a major role in creating a more marginalised society by doing away with entry level jobs, ignoring community housing & increasing transport costs.

Blen_Carmichael Blen_Carmichael 5:05 pm 01 Sep 18

“Our system of government is unique in that it combines the functions of local government and state responsibilities, thus removing a whole layer of government.”

That’s got to be the funniest spin I’ve read for a long time.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 8:15 pm 31 Aug 18

So tax payers have to pay for more freeloaders... so that's why our rates have gone up again..

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 4:36 pm 02 Sep 18

    Rates are going up all over the country. While everyone likes to blame their pet hate for rates rising, the biggest reason they are rising is cost of living. Energy costs rise it affects both households and the government. They don't get free electricity. Rents rise, so does the cost of leasing offices. Cost of services go up, so the government has to pay more for using those services in order to provide the services they provide. The places where rates are rising the least are in higher density well-established areas like inner Sydney. Country regions and suburban areas rates are going up a lot all across the country.

    Trevor Watson Trevor Watson 9:05 pm 04 Sep 18

    The greens want to effectively double our land rates by charging on the ICV meaning the value of your home rather than the land value...

A_Cog A_Cog 2:17 pm 31 Aug 18

How is this a win for democracy? Why will an eighth minister be any more competent than the other seven? Will Chris Steel magically solve the other seven ministers being “over-worked” ? Are all the failures and mistakes by the ACT Government due to too few ministers?

And is Chris Steel the right person for the job? He has near-zero real world experience… with almost all his jobs having been for the ALP.
2005–06: electorate officer for Joel Fitzgibbon
2006-07: Chair / Director of ANU Union Board (Young Labor)
2008: adviser to Barr
2009-12: adviser to Joy Burch (who performed verrrrry poorly in those portfolios)
2012-13: adviser to Kate Ellis, in her capacity as Minister for Early Childhood…
…2013-16: policy manager at Early Childhood Australia, which looks suspiciously like an ALP think-tank
2016: elected to ACT/LA as ALP candidate

More of the same.

Spiral Spiral 1:10 pm 31 Aug 18

No it will not improve the quality of political decision making in Canberra. Our local politicians are pathetic regardless of which party they belong to, and will do almost anything to make themselves seem more important.

How about they don’t create a new minister (which I presume comes with a pay rise) and divert that pay rise into one of the social issues Rebecca apparently supports.

That would be a win for everyone, except of course the additional ineffectual extra minister.

goggles13 goggles13 6:49 am 31 Aug 18

of course with an additional Ministry member comes additional cost which is borne by the ACT ratepayer. How about asking the ACT votes at a referendum (tied in with an election), whether we think this is necessary or not??

meanwhile we have a toy train being foisted on us for an insane amount of money and the duplication of Ashley Drive is still not complete. the state of the northbound carriageway is a disgrace which needs to be fixed. no doubt it will be fixed at the ratepayers expense.

but these issues are not important, let’s worry about the pollies workload.

Andrew Braddock Andrew Braddock 7:49 am 30 Aug 18

The comparisons with NT and Tas does not take into account the number of local government representatives in those locations. It would be interesting to compare those numbers

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