Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Political Chronicle: July-December 1996: Australian Capital Territory

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Political Chronicle: July-December 1996: Australian Capital Territory

Article excerpt

Territory Rights

Commonwealth interference in ACT affairs became a major political question in the second half of 1996, when a member of Parliament, Kevin Andrews, declared that he would introduce a private member's bill to overturn the Northern Territory's voluntary euthanasia legislation that came into effect on 1 July 1996. By the time the bill was tabled in September, its scope had been broadened to cover both the ACT and Norfolk Island. While not directed at any existing legislation in the ACT, the law angered proponents of similar legislation in the ACT and raised concerns that the Commonwealth might increasingly exercise its right under the Australian Capital Territory (Self-government) Act to interfere in the ACTs affairs. A particular opponent of the Andrews' bill was independent MLA, Michael Moore, who had previously introduced a bill to legalise euthanasia and who was indicating his intention to reintroduce the bill when he felt he had the numbers in the ACT Legislative Assembly. There is no doubt that he had and has considerable public support for his legislation. Regardless of the position of individual members, all parties in the Assembly criticised the Andrews' bill as an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the territory, a position supported by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. These protests were of no avail. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on a conscience vote on 10 December by 91 votes to 38. It would be passed by the Senate on 24 March 1997 by 38 votes to 34.

While the Andrews' bill dominated public debate, other smaller issues raised the prospect of further Commonwealth legislation overriding the decisions of the ACT Government. In September, the New South Wales Government threatened to approach the Commonwealth to legislate to force the ACT and Northern Territory governments to prevent betting on the Sydney Olympics. The International Olympic Committee had sought an assurance from the NSW Government that betting would not be allowed on the Olympics. NSW had assured the Committee it would not allow betting and was seeking similar assurances from the other states and territories. The ACTS position was that betting on the Olympic and Commonwealth games with licensed sports bookmakers would be allowed,leading to the threat of Commonwealth intervention. In the same month, Federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, confirmed that the Commonwealth Government would keep its election promise to ban the X-rating classification for videos in the territories, in line with existing bans in all of the states. This action would have made possession and distribution of X-rated videos illegal in the ACT. The ACT Government protested against the Commonwealth closing a major local industry, especially at a time when Commonwealth policies on the public service were pushing up local unemployment rates. While the Commonwealth did replace X-rating with a classification called non-violent erotica (NVE), this had no effect on the distributors operating in Canberra.

It should not be thought that every Canberran was united in protesting against Commonwealth interference. In particular, there were many who supported the Andrews' bill. They presumably regarded the issue of euthanasia as more important than the issue of territorial rights. Independent MLA, Paul Osborne, supported the Commonwealth proposal to close Canberra's X-rated video distributors. Presumably he felt that pornography was a more important issue than territorial rights or the loss of jobs and ACT Government revenue from closing the distributors. The ever-present issue of urban planning also saw support for the Commonwealth taking a more interventionist role. The ACT Governments decision to build a portable futsal (mini-soccer) stadium on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin was widely criticised as out of keeping with Commonwealth planning for the national capital. Even the Canberra Times, long a supporter of ACT self-govenment, pointed out that "The ACT Government is given extra money through the Grants Commission to pay for costs associated with higher national-capital requirements, so it should not complain if federal authorities insist on them. …

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