“They can come down there and see where their taxes money is going to be spent, how their opinions are mattering, what the laws and bills will be …
“So they can have an idea of what’s actually going on with their own parliament, instead of just reading in the news a report on what’s happening. They can go and see it live in person.”
These are the words of young Canberrans, some pretty switched on young scouts to be precise, who spent some time in the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday and firmly believe the rest of us should make more of an effort to visit the public gallery when our Members are at work.
I was sitting in the press gallery of the Assembly all day yesterday, looking at the empty public seating, wondering where everyone else was, when the Amaroo scouts arrived and showed you all up.
Anyone can come to see our local members in action on a sitting day, but most of the time, the public gallery remains empty. With only four more sitting days before the ACT election after today, your opportunities to assess the MLAs as they debate the issues that change life in our city are fast slipping away.
Watching the debate, following the interjections and conversations that go on around the perimeters of it all and seeing legislation that affects our daily lives pass into law first-hand is the best way to understand how our local government works.
It’s the best way, in my view, to make personal assessments of the lawmakers we choose between when we come to vote. Has watching the MLAs in action changed my opinion about these politicians? In some cases, most definitely, in a way that reading about their work or watching them spout talking points on television never could.
On the one hand, seeing some members yell at each other across the chamber like a bunch of school children at times makes you question their ability to act with the maturity we would expect of our leaders.
On another, hearing them make speeches about charity work and human rights issues that are never reported in the media renews your confidence in politicians’ motivations.
Today, the Assembly has been sitting since 10am, and not a soul has appeared in the public gallery. Yesterday, aside from a group of supporters who popped in to support Val Jeffery during his maiden speech and one or two individuals who came to see legislation they had championed pass into law, the seats remained empty between 10am and 5.45pm.
The Amaroo scouts appeared to watch the last few minutes of yesterday’s proceedings, and I met with the young Canberrans as they discussed the workings of the Assembly with Labor MLA Jayson Hinder afterwards to ask them whether they thought more Territorians should come to see their representatives at work, and why. A dozen of them threw their hands in the air, with affirmations audible around the room. Here are some of their thoughts on the matter:
Ruby: So they can have an idea of what’s actually going on with their own parliament, instead of just reading in the news a report on what’s happening. They can go and see it live in person.
Lachie: They can be more aware of what’s happening around them, like with the domestic violence thing that happened down there, they can learn about what’s happening and what the Government’s doing to help that.
Gerry: They can come down there and see where their taxes money is going to be spent, how their opinions are mattering, what the laws and bills will be.
Chris: They can learn a lot of new things.
Daniel: Maybe if they’ve got an issue, they can relate to that issue.
Josh: It’s just interesting, and it gives people an idea of what they do down here, how important it actually is, and why they should keep it going.
Ruby: If they’re wanting to aspire to be in that position when they grow older, experience-wise, you can get used to the feel of the [Chamber] and the discussions that go on.
Hear, hear, kids. Hear, hear. I think you’ve well and truly earnt those Citizenship Badges.
If you’d like to visit the Assembly during the remaining sitting days, plan your visit for between 2.30pm and 6pm this afternoon, 10am and 12.30pm or that same afternoon timeslot tomorrow, or during the same times on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday next week.
The Assembly’s public entrance is in Civic Square, opposite the Civic Library. You will need to pass through a security check, and give the Speaker a small bow upon entering and exiting the Chamber. Give me a wave, I’ll be the only journalist in the room, up the back.