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The ACT deserves better federal representation. Here’s why.

By Steven Bailey 28 July 2015 13

mount ainslie view over parliament house and war memorial canberra

Following the flurry after it was announced that the Northern Territory may achieve statehood by 2018, politicians, pundits, and the media alike were quick to quell the cries that the Australian Capital Territory too could become a state.

Local media pointed out that the ACT would not be left as Australia’s lone territory, as we’d still be on the same inferior legislative bar in our status as other territories such as Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island, among six others.

Additionally, Chief Minister Andrew Barr told RiotACT that it is not possible for the ACT to become a state due to the creation of the territory as enshrined in the constitution.

But of course, the conjecture that erupted from the announcement was not entirely a result of a constitutional misunderstanding, it was rather a result of the frustration of Territorians knowing that, as Australians, we are treated as second-class citizens.

One of the democratic disadvantages of living in a territory is that in a federal referendum, the vote of a Territorian is worth less than that of a citizen living in a state. Another democratic disparity is that although the ACT is given legislative authority, it has no constitutional authority, meaning that laws enacted by the legislative assemblies may be overturned by the conservative whims and whimsies of federal parliamentarians – such as the Andrews Bill, which prevents the territories from legislating for citizens who wish to choose to die with dignity.

However, one of the chief sticking points for many Canberrans and Northern Territorians is that we are underrepresented in the Australian senate.

All states have 12 senators; six being elected at each federal election with six-year terms. That Tasmania’s population of a bit over 500,000 can enjoy the representation of 12 senators while a population of close to 400,000, that of the ACT, is entitled to only two senators is an indisputable repression of the democratic will of the citizens of the ACT.

This position was echoed last week by Chief Minister Barr when he said: “it is clear that the ACT is underrepresented in parliament at both the federal and territory level.”

Pressed on how many senators to which he believes the ACT should be entitled, and in light of the recent developments regarding the Northern Territory, the Chief put it to RiotACT that the ACT should enjoy the same number of Senators as the NT.

“Having 12 senators in Federal Parliament is a bit of a stretch and won’t happen. If [the Northern Territory] increases so should we,” he said.

“Four would seem a reasonable number; two elected each time for a six-year term like the other Senators.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says state leaders agree unanimously with NT Chief Minister Adam Giles that the NT should become its own state by July 1, 2018. When asked to confirm this unanimous support, Andrew Barr responded, “I am not opposed to the NT becoming a state. It is a matter for the people of the NT and then the Commonwealth Parliament to determine.”

It is no secret that Giles and Barr don’t see eye to eye on everything. Earlier this year, Barr publicly stated that “no-one wants to go to Darwin”, which prompted Giles to challenge Barr to a boxing match.

Asked whether he thought Giles would make a good premier, Barr responded: “the people of the NT will make that decision.”

Regardless of what happens to the NT, the ACT deserves greater federal representation. When compared to the NT, I’d say the Australian Capital Territory displays an intellectually superior polity in every way. Perhaps for every one extra NT Senator, the ACT should receive two.

Does the ACT need greater federal representation?

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13 Responses to
The ACT deserves better federal representation. Here’s why.
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Mysteryman 11:02 am 03 Aug 15

wallabyted said :

Little Johnny said the constitution only gives Canberra 2 seats – of course he didn’t mention that decision was made when the population of Canberra only warranted a representation of 2 seats.

What relevance does the second part of that sentence have to the first part? Are you aware that the government can’t change the constitution without the support of a majority of Australians? It’s not nothing to do with your perception of what “conservatives” do and don’t want.

wallabyted 7:40 pm 31 Jul 15

Little Johnny said the constitution only gives Canberra 2 seats – of course he didn’t mention that decision was made when the population of Canberra only warranted a representation of 2 seats. The ratio representation of Canberrans in Federal politics should be according to the ratio of its population to other states. Otherwise we have an ugly situation – its called a Gerrymander, but of course this situation receives the strong support of the Conservatives – like at the last election where the two party preferred vote differed by less than the informal vote, but the number of seats differed by a much greater percentage. Personally I think the Nationals were shafted in the deal and should break away from the LIbs and form a coalition with Labour instead 🙂

Steven Bailey 9:46 am 31 Jul 15

oh_ said :

If we cant both be States in terms of representation and number of seats, what about the ACT and the NT both counting as one State (ie 6 Senators each) like we do on the flag (we share one point on the Federal Star!), or even the ACT and NT both counting as half a State (which would still be an increase to 3 Senators each). Tasmania is probably an outlier as back around Federation it would have had a lot higher proportion of the Australian population and development relatively speaking due to its older history, but we in the ACT should at least get the same representation as SA I would think, which would be about 3 Senators.

Haha, a novel idea… I think the people of the ACT and NT might take a different view to your proposition. I’m not quite sure I understand the last bit. All states have 12 senators.

oh_ 9:26 pm 30 Jul 15

If we cant both be States in terms of representation and number of seats, what about the ACT and the NT both counting as one State (ie 6 Senators each) like we do on the flag (we share one point on the Federal Star!), or even the ACT and NT both counting as half a State (which would still be an increase to 3 Senators each). Tasmania is probably an outlier as back around Federation it would have had a lot higher proportion of the Australian population and development relatively speaking due to its older history, but we in the ACT should at least get the same representation as SA I would think, which would be about 3 Senators.

Barraman 2:21 pm 30 Jul 15

The ACT should be abolished and incorporated into NSW; the only worthwhile product of the ACT was a footballer called Alex Jesaulenko.

dungfungus 6:50 pm 28 Jul 15

HenryBG said :

No_Nose said :

What is this obsession in the ACT with wanting more politicians?

I would happily vote for any proposal that gave us fewer, in both the local council and the commonwealth government.

Hear Hear!

And meanwhile, our tinpot toytown government which – Greek-style – employs an army of unproductive public servants has recently voted to increase its size.

You should “warm” to the fact that they leave a very small carbon footprint when they are unproductive.

HiddenDragon 6:10 pm 28 Jul 15

How ever many federal reps the ACT elects, the voting patterns here are so predictable that we will continue to be taken for granted by the major parties (and would likely be punished even more severely if we put a Green or two into the federal parliament). By comparison, our neighbours across the border in Eden Monaro have perfected the art of swing voting, and seem to get somewhat more positive attention from federal governments than love-to-hate-it-and-leave-it-as-quickly-as-possible Canberra.

As to Statehood, perhaps we need to stage some midnights coups that aren’t coups – then they might take notice of our plucky little local democracy.

HenryBG 5:02 pm 28 Jul 15

No_Nose said :

What is this obsession in the ACT with wanting more politicians?

I would happily vote for any proposal that gave us fewer, in both the local council and the commonwealth government.

Hear Hear!

And meanwhile, our tinpot toytown government which – Greek-style – employs an army of unproductive public servants has recently voted to increase its size.

vintage123 3:00 pm 28 Jul 15

Very nicely written article Steven. Well done.

switch 1:29 pm 28 Jul 15

No_Nose said :

What is this obsession in the ACT with wanting more politicians?

I would happily vote for any proposal that gave us fewer, in both the local council and the commonwealth government.

Like that’s ever going to happen…

No_Nose 1:09 pm 28 Jul 15

What is this obsession in the ACT with wanting more politicians?

I would happily vote for any proposal that gave us fewer, in both the local council and the commonwealth government.

Garfield 12:40 pm 28 Jul 15

I just voted no. Although I agree Tasmania is over represented in the federal parliament I think it is at the expense of the larger states rather than the ACT. With say 375 thousand people in the ACT of 23 million in Australia we should have 3.7 federal reps which rounds up to 4.

Grail 11:26 am 28 Jul 15

Watch as party members rabidly vote “yes” now, but then suggest that certain parties are over-represented when the seats are filled with independents and Greens.

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