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What will the next 25 years bring for the ACT Assembly?

By Kim Fischer - 12 October 2015 14

ACT Legislative Assembly

The first sitting day of the ACT Assembly in May 1989 was not smooth. Accusations flew about backstabbing Opposition deals being done for thirty pieces of silver; members mournfully noted that the first Assembly included at least four members who thought the Assembly should not exist at all:

Bill Wood (Australian Labor Party): We have not been born in the most auspicious circumstances … This is the only parliament that I know of that has people sitting in it, who now share our aims, who do not want to be here and did not want this parliament to be here. So we have problems. I believe that the first task for us as members [is to show] the community by the way we do things that this Assembly will work, that it is a good idea, that the enormous amount of work we are going to take in is a necessary factor in our progress.

In that first year, the ACT Assembly was literally being made up as it went along. Standing orders, committees, the first set of four ministerial appointments – all done for the first time. The early years weren’t pretty with two government collapses occurring in just over two years.

Independents and protest parties came and went over the first few terms of the Assembly. With the switch to Hare-Clarke voting, the only Independent MLA to survive the first four terms of government was the population health expert Michael Moore.

Over time, the Legislative Assembly has become a more mature representative body. Fourteen years after the declaration of self-government, in the aftermath of the Canberra bushfires, Assembly members said:

Jon Stanhope (Australian Labor Party): If anything good can be taken from this disaster, it is a reminder of the incredible generosity, bravery, resilience and decency of Canberrans … Canberra is not merely a collection of houses and national monuments; it is a living, breathing community with unlimited capacity to give, care and pull together.

Bill Wood (Australian Labor Party): If it was ever in doubt, ACT self-government has come of age.

Twenty-five years on from self-government, there are nearly 100,000 extra people living in Canberra. While it is never popular to say that more politicians are needed, the workload of the Assembly has, in fact, increased dramatically. It is not just because we have extra citizens; today there are many more complex agreements with the Commonwealth and other States and Territories to fund and manage health, education, national security, and social services programs.

After working in the Assembly for a number of years, I’ve seen the stress Ministers go through first-hand as they attempt to balance the portfolio demands from both Territory and Federal public service departments. The appointment of a fifth Minister in 2003, and then a sixth in 2015 were attempts to spread the load more evenly across the Executive. However we still need backbenchers to participate in committees and other important Assembly functions. This, along with the need for stronger local representation by MLAs, is why the expansion of the Assembly to 25 members is welcome.

What will the next 25 years of the Assembly look like? Ultimately, that’s up to all of us. Now that we have five smaller, more local electorates, each of our individual votes has never mattered more.

Over the next 12 months people wanting to take part in the new and expanded Assembly will be asking for your vote (yes, hopefully including me). It’s a good time for reflection on what matters to you about your local representatives. How can they deliver a better Canberra for all of us?

What do you look for in an MLA?

What’s Your opinion?


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14 Responses to
What will the next 25 years bring for the ACT Assembly?
dungfungus 3:08 pm 14 Oct 15

rosscoact said :

HiddenDragon said :

rosscoact said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

Oh please John, do try to be accurate in the things you say. Are you saying that in the ACT in 1988 there was a total of 800 people working in civic administration, teachers, police, ambulance, hospitals etc? That is quite a ridiculous statement.

Yes, there might have been a few…. more than 800, but whatever the figure was at the time of self government, it would be interesting to see which have been the growth areas. Some growth would be explained by population increase, and by other factors, such as participation in national initiatives.

On the other side of the coin, combining state and local government functions should surely produce worthwhile administrative efficiencies. Likewise, our very, very compact geography (compared to the States and NT) spares us the extra costs of regional (in the usual sense of that word) and remote service delivery.

There’s also the eternal question of services for people in NSW, and whether we are properly reimbursed for that – there was some airing of that prior to this year’s Territory Budget.

Indeed, a comparison of like for like would be interesting but the irrational situation where people count some public servants and not others isn’t even a comparison. It’s a plucking of peripherally related figures out of the air and claiming a direct connection.

Every time I’ve ever done the research the state by state average ratios of combined local and state government employees to the population, it is about 1:16. And this includes the ACT too. Of course the use of consultants and fee for service would affect this but I assume that all governments would be trying to provide the greatest level of service for the lowest cost. All things being equal.

It’s just that the tireless misinformation by the misinformed and perennially disgruntled forms a greater proportion of the public discourse here than in other places I’ve lived.

You know your stuff on this issue. Totally agree with everything you have said.

rosscoact 11:16 am 14 Oct 15

HiddenDragon said :

rosscoact said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

Oh please John, do try to be accurate in the things you say. Are you saying that in the ACT in 1988 there was a total of 800 people working in civic administration, teachers, police, ambulance, hospitals etc? That is quite a ridiculous statement.

Yes, there might have been a few…. more than 800, but whatever the figure was at the time of self government, it would be interesting to see which have been the growth areas. Some growth would be explained by population increase, and by other factors, such as participation in national initiatives.

On the other side of the coin, combining state and local government functions should surely produce worthwhile administrative efficiencies. Likewise, our very, very compact geography (compared to the States and NT) spares us the extra costs of regional (in the usual sense of that word) and remote service delivery.

There’s also the eternal question of services for people in NSW, and whether we are properly reimbursed for that – there was some airing of that prior to this year’s Territory Budget.

Indeed, a comparison of like for like would be interesting but the irrational situation where people count some public servants and not others isn’t even a comparison. It’s a plucking of peripherally related figures out of the air and claiming a direct connection.

Every time I’ve ever done the research the state by state average ratios of combined local and state government employees to the population, it is about 1:16. And this includes the ACT too. Of course the use of consultants and fee for service would affect this but I assume that all governments would be trying to provide the greatest level of service for the lowest cost. All things being equal.

It’s just that the tireless misinformation by the misinformed and perennially disgruntled forms a greater proportion of the public discourse here than in other places I’ve lived.

Ian 10:10 am 14 Oct 15

The next 25 years? I suspect much the same as the first 25. The occasional success, plenty of low grade incompetence and the occasional complete debacle.

Speaking of successes, what have been the successes of the Assembly’s first 25 years? Nothing leaps to mind right now, but I’d like to believe there have been some.

HenryBG 10:10 am 14 Oct 15

dungfungus said :

rubaiyat said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

…and the price of a cup of coffee has tripled!

That’s because of the price of water which has almost tripled in the past 5 years.

The cost of water in the ACT is:
– $100/year. Assuming 20,000 cups of coffee made, this comes to 0.5c/cup.
– $5/kL. This comes to 0.15c/cup.

So the price of water therefore represents 0.2/400 of the price of a cup of coffee, or 0.05%.
Assuming a profit margin of 50% on this product/service, water represents 0.1% of the input costs. A tripling of the cost of this input would therefore equate to a 0.2% rise in input costs.

In other words, the assertion that a tripling of the cast of water would result in a tripling in the price of coffee is completely and utterly wrong.

I’m with you on the bloated 25,000-strong public service, though, especially as they do so little work that their projects mostly have to be completed through the hiring of expensive consultants and contractors.

rubaiyat 9:01 am 14 Oct 15

dungfungus said :

rubaiyat said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

…and the price of a cup of coffee has tripled!

That’s because of the price of water which has almost tripled in the past 5 years.

Fairs fair dungers, you no longer have to haul it with a bucket and rope since you first did it.

dungfungus 6:14 pm 13 Oct 15

rubaiyat said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

…and the price of a cup of coffee has tripled!

That’s because of the price of water which has almost tripled in the past 5 years.

HiddenDragon 6:01 pm 13 Oct 15

rosscoact said :

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

Oh please John, do try to be accurate in the things you say. Are you saying that in the ACT in 1988 there was a total of 800 people working in civic administration, teachers, police, ambulance, hospitals etc? That is quite a ridiculous statement.

Yes, there might have been a few…. more than 800, but whatever the figure was at the time of self government, it would be interesting to see which have been the growth areas. Some growth would be explained by population increase, and by other factors, such as participation in national initiatives.

On the other side of the coin, combining state and local government functions should surely produce worthwhile administrative efficiencies. Likewise, our very, very compact geography (compared to the States and NT) spares us the extra costs of regional (in the usual sense of that word) and remote service delivery.

There’s also the eternal question of services for people in NSW, and whether we are properly reimbursed for that – there was some airing of that prior to this year’s Territory Budget.

rubaiyat 3:24 pm 13 Oct 15

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

…and the price of a cup of coffee has tripled!

Affirmative Action M 2:48 pm 13 Oct 15

And don’t forget the ACT Human Rights Commission – that great, costly White Elephant that was foisted on us by the politicians.

Nobody (including the HRC itself) has ever provided any evidence that people living in States without a HRC are any better off than people living in jurisdictions that do have a HRC.

rosscoact 2:16 pm 13 Oct 15

John Moulis said :

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

Oh please John, do try to be accurate in the things you say. Are you saying that in the ACT in 1988 there was a total of 800 people working in civic administration, teachers, police, ambulance, hospitals etc? That is quite a ridiculous statement.

rosscoact 2:12 pm 13 Oct 15

Skyring, I assume with your level of disgruntlement you are running for the Assembly as an independent next year?

Affirmative Action M 1:45 pm 13 Oct 15

Stan Hopeless & Wooden Bill – 2 of the most mediocre pollies that we have produced.

John Moulis 1:45 pm 13 Oct 15

1987 – Before self government. 800 public servants administering Canberra
2015 – Under self government. 25,000 public servants administering Canberra.
Says it all really…

Skyring 7:58 am 13 Oct 15

Interesting that the ALP regarded the response to the bushfires as “self-government coming of age”. The bushfires began a week before, and day after day we watched them burn closer. They were front page news, especially when the then Chief Minister personally involved himself.

I felt confident that the people in charge of my safety were keeping an eye on a dangerous situation. As the sun set through the smoke on the day before, I observed to a Revolve worker at the Belconnen tip that “They’ll be here tomorrow.”

I fully expected that someone had worked out a plan to keep us safe, that preparations had been made and that the nation’s capital would be shielded.

How wrong I was. The ACT government was working on hope, the fires raced into the suburbs, destroyed five hundred houses, executive power was removed from the government, four people died, and the whole affair cost us a huge amount.

Since then, I have watched as the city I love is ravaged, not by bushfires, but by incompetence and corruption. Open space and parkland and trees are removed for ugly blocks of flats. Public vistas are closed off and sold to the buyers of “luxury landmark developments”. Pointless and costly political exercises are undertaken for no apparent public benefit.

* The passing of legislation purporting to enable marriage equality, which was quickly overturned by the incoming Abbott government, despite a huge lHigh Court legal bill. Why not pass the same legislation a few weeks earlier? Because t would embarrass the Gillard government.

* The support for wind power electricity. But not in the ACT.

* The development of Gungahlin without adequate roads, leading to the costly and protracted bungle of the Gungahlin Drive Extension.

* The tram. That stupid tram.

And on and on. The ACT Legislative Assembly is to expand at the next election. More members, more staffers, more salaries, perks and pensions. Longer terms, meaning less democratic input.

“Call-in” powers, giving the government the power to overrule the objections of the people if a developer pays enough for their “luxury landmark development.”

Oh yes, we’ve come of age. Canberra is now ruled by the big parties and their entrenched ways.

And don’t think I believe the Libs would be any better. I have zero confidence in their methods.

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