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.