29 November 2023

Government accused of using 'pure numbers' to rush inquiry of promised legislation

| Claire Fenwicke
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Peter Cain MLA.

JACS committee chair Peter Cain had hoped to receive an extension on the reporting time of four pieces of proposed legislation. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Canberra Liberals have accused the ACT Government of trying to rush through legislation without affording a committee inquiry enough time to scrutinise the fine print.

It comes after the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety (JACS) had put forward a request to change the reporting dates for four inquiries being undertaken by the committee into the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill (2023), the Human Rights Healthy Environment Amendment Bill (2023), the Parentage Surrogacy Amendment Bill (2023) and the Sexual, Family and Personal Violence Amendment Bill (2023).

Committee inquiries are required to hand back their reports within three months of being presented to the Legislative Assembly.

Chair Peter Cain said the JACS committee was seeking an extension of reporting dates for the above matters to 14 March 2024, especially given the Healthy Environment amendment bill had only been presented during the last sitting week earlier this month.

“The committee is keen to do a thorough inquiry into these pieces of important legislation,” he said.

He pointed to the looming Christmas break having a “significant impact” on the committee’s ability to do a comprehensive review and to hear from relevant stakeholders.

READ ALSO ‘Stretched too thinly’: Double ACT Senate spots to ensure better representation, says committee report

However, Minister Mick Gentleman moved an amendment to this motion, proposing to remove the Healthy Environment amendment bill from the motion but allowing an extension of time for the other three.

“While the government understands the Justice and Community Safety committee’s workload, a referring of the reporting time of not one but four bill inquiries, particularly in the lead up to a busy final year [of term], is not something that should just be waved through,” he said.

“The Human Rights Healthy Environment Amendment Bill (2023) is at some risk of complications if not debated in the March sittings of 2024.

“If delayed, there’s a chance that the work that needs to be undertaken to prepare for and commence the right will be compromised by the caretaker period.”

Mr Gentleman said the amendment had previous consultation and “is very short as far as bills go”.

The bill forms part of the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement (PAGA) and its commencement has already been delayed by six months.

Given there’s an election in October next year, government business must be suspended during the caretaker period before the election.

READ ALSO ACT Greens maintain representative in Brindabella with Laura Nuttall winning countback

Speaking as committee chair, Mr Cain said this amendment was of “great concern” to him given the committee structure was “the only check and balance” available as in the ACT’s unicameral parliament, “the pure numbers can make a law about anything”.

“I suspect [this] is unprecedented, in this term of government, for the minister to stand up and say ‘I’m not going to let a committee express itself through an inquiry process and to do a full and proper inquiry as this committee has decided,” he said.

He rebuffed the reasons given by Mr Gentleman, including the argument it’s a “short bill”.

“Short doesn’t mean insignificant,” Mr Cain said.

“These are confected and fabricated reasons to suit the government’s agenda.

“I urge the members of the assembly not to interfere with the committee structure, which is one of the very few things the community has to say, ‘What’s keeping this government in check?'”

Canberra Liberals MLA Ed Cocks also questioned if the Healthy Environment amendment bill was part of the PAGA, why it had taken the government so long to present it to the Assembly.

“All the levers here are in the control of the government,” he said.

“The government is in control of the transition time. The government decides when a bill is presented. The government decides when it is debated.

“It was entirely feasible for this government to prioritise … this piece of work earlier in the term, but it hasn’t.”

Mr Cain closed the argument expressing his concerns for his committee to do its work thoroughly.

“It is very, very concerning that Mr Gentleman is seeking to use the numbers of the government to oppose the wishes of a committee that I am here representing,” he said.

Fellow committee member Dr Marisa Paterson noted Mr Cain’s comments on Mr Gentleman’s amendment did not reflect the view of the entire committee.

Mr Gentleman’s amended motion was agreed to by the Labor and Greens MLAs.

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Lord knows we need a house of review in the ACT!
In the absence of that, as a unicameral parliament, let the committees do what they need to do in the time they need.

@D. Jack
Absolutely agree.
In 2016 when they increased the number of MLAs from 17 to 25, it would have made a lot more sense to introduce an 8 member second chamber as a house of review. That would have allowed 7 in the chamber with the 8th having the role of “speaker/president/whatever of the chamber”.
Canberrans would hopefully identify the advantage of the numbers in the second chamber being “non government” biased, in the way the Senate currently is operating federally.

Poor old Peter Cain getting himself all worked up into a frenzy over the government just doing its job. Out of government and out of sorts! Again, we are seeing talk of the need for an upper house of review in the Territory’s parliament. This time because prickly old Peter Cain didn’t get his way. I watched the debate and the government’s explanation made sense. That is, they would be unable to extend the deadline for the inquiry as there were many parliamentary commitments to be met in the lead up and prior to the caretaker mode kicking in in an election year. But poor old Peter wouldn’t hear of this as he frothed and bellowed across the chamber!

Someone in the Liberals really should have a talk to Peter about his increasingly bizarre and manic behaviour inside and outside of the chamber. This is the same man who was elected on the slimmest of margins who mostly uses his parliamentary time out in the electorate, knocking on doors, taking selfies with voters to try and shore up his slim chances of re-election in 2024. This is the same man who recently used his parliamentary Facebook page to reply to right wing media supporting commentary undermining our parliament and calling for an end to self-government in the ACT. This is the same man who supported deputy leader Jeremy Hanson in lobbying the party’s federal senators to interfere and trample our laws and undermine our elected government to do its job.

I suggest Peter and the party get their acts together and present themselves as a real alternative at the 2024 election. The party’s deep internal and leadership problems including its chauvinistic antagonism towards female members have been highlighted in the media and revealed at the party’s recent AGM. This included one party member and failed Liberal electoral candidate telling ex-MLA Giulia Jones to “shut up” while she was speaking.

@Jack D.
“Again, we are seeing talk of the need for an upper house of review in the Territory’s parliament.”
And why would that be a bad thing, Jack?

I did not express an opinion either way, just that there is recurring talk of the need for an upper house of review. I also pointed out the need for the Canberra Liberals and Peter Cain to get their acts together, present themselves as a real alternative to our current government and the reasons behind that rather than bringing frivolous issues into the Assembly.

In the leadup to the next election in just under 11 months this is another fringe issue that the Canberra Liberals are pushing but it did get media attention for them.

What vitriolic nonsense! My brother in Christ, I suggest you go outside and touch grass. You have lost the plot.

“Lord knows” and “My brother in Christ”? Goodness, is this the type of biblical nonsense we will subjected to in the unlikely event that the God bothering Liberals are elected to government?

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