I enclose the Thursday Editorial from The Australian along with my comment at the end. I cannot accept their arguement about governance, let alone leave it as some final word on the matter.
No room for naivety when it comes to territory rights
NO matter what Bob Brown pushes, the ACT is not a state.
Just so there is no misunderstanding: this newspaper does not have a vendetta against the ACT, nor against its highly educated, professional and better-paid citizens. We welcome the data that show the 350,000 people who call Canberra home have a higher rate of post-school qualifications, a higher average income and lower unemployment than the rest of us. They are the sort of statistics we would like to see across the country. But that doesn’t excuse the wave of self-righteous fury emanating from the national capital in the wake of Bob Brown’s calculated exercise in constitutional manipulation.
His demand for legislation to remove the executive veto over territory legislation demonstrates the Greens leader’s political skill. Senator Brown outfoxed the Gillard government, then when the row erupted, agreed to send his plan off to a committee. He has achieved his first aim — to prove to his supporters that he is serious about gay marriage. He argues the legislation is about “equal rights” for the territories but you would have to be naive to think that it is about anything other than helping the ACT government, led by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, to move ahead with one of its pet projects, the recognition of same-sex unions.
Once again, so there is no misunderstanding, we make no judgment about issues of personal choice, but we are not sure that gay marriage is a first-order issue. Equally, we are cautious about governments moving too far ahead of mainstream opinion on social issues.
Which brings us back to the ACT and those statistics that suggest Canberrans may not be representative of national opinion on this issue. And anyway, why are advocates happy to see such profound social policy being taken out of the control of the federal parliament where it rightly belongs? How can Senator Brown seriously argue for a reduction in the powers of the federal government when he pushed for Canberra to save the Franklin in his own state almost 30 years ago. Back then, Senator Brown led the successful campaign against the Gordon-below-Franklin dam project, which was ultimately blocked by use of the external affairs powers of the Australian Constitution. More recently, in 2001, as we note today, Senator Brown unsuccessfully tried to use Senate powers to block the construction of an expressway in the ACT on environmental grounds. It’s a bit rich for the Greens to blithely argue now that a legislature of just 17 people should be allowed to adjudicate on a contentious social issue that demands a broad consensus. The federal parliament could overturn any territory legislation even if the executive veto were dropped. It seems Senator Brown is relying on his party’s control of the Senate after July to cut a swath through policy.
The Australian’s commitment to the veto has nothing to do with whether or not the ACT can be trusted or about treating territorians as “second-class citizens”, as Mr Stanhope claimed last week. It is about maintaining the integrity of the Constitution and of our system of government.
As editor-at-large Paul Kelly wrote yesterday: “The ACT is not a state. It is the creation of the national government and parliament and its reason for existence is to provide the seat of national administration . . . The ACT has no claim to statehood. It never will be a state. Its constitutionally inferior status is enshrined for good reason.” Kelly pointed out that while ACT citizens were entitled to the same political rights as any other citizens, the territories were restricted in their legislative powers. In short, the ACT must answer to the government and parliament that set it up.
None of this can be lost on Senator Brown or the Greens, who have worked so closely with ACT Labor in recent years to advance same-sex recognition. In 2006, the ACT passed a law giving same-sex civil unions the same legal recognition as marriage. It was vetoed by the Howard government, but since then the Greens have been digging away at the issue one way or the other. As it stands now, the Gillard government appears highly likely to go along with Senator Brown and repeal the executive veto.
Last week, the ACT’s local paper, The Canberra Times, editorialised against this newspaper’s stand. It claimed we saw Canberrans as “imbeciles; too prone to dangerous ideas to be allowed to govern (their) own affairs.” We accord the Times the right to hold its own, albeit fanciful, views, but we’re not accepting its flippant disregard for accuracy. Far from suggesting its citizens be “muzzled”, we belled the cat — stating that the veto debate was a stalking horse for gay marriage and arguing Canberra should not cede power to the territories. Unlike Senator Brown, we believe this is the only constitutionally consistent position it is possible to take.
However, the status of governance should not deny the population of the ACT from deciding their own laws on social relations, a power not given by the old colonies to the Commonwealth under the Constitution.
To argue that the powers of a State cannot reside in a Territory for some arcane historical reason is to attempt to freeze in time the relations between jurisdictions with the Federation. Even the Australian has to admit that position is untenable.
Paul Kelly, the Editor at Large, described the profile of the 350,000 Canberrans’ as insiders in his comments last Saturday on the divide in Australia over pricing Carbon emissions.
To deny them the status of a state is to argue that Tasmania should not be one, its population once being 350,000 or that having 8 fewer representatives than Tasmania somehow lessens the ACT’s capacity to govern social relations.
Queensland has successfully managed with a unicameral parliament.
If the number of representatives is problematical, then expand the number, not argue for the powers of the ancient regimes to sit in the hands of a Cabinet Minister.
The ACT was created to remove the potential for NSW to be seen to control the Commonwealth when the idea of a federation had only just emerged into a form. Remember at the time the Commonwealth thought it needed a port and so another area was excised at Jervis Bay, then virtually wilderness. The Capital moved from Melbourne so the rivalry with Victoria was addressed, 2 great engines of the then economy struggling over the dominance of national development to the benefit of their elites.
If the Commonwealth wishes to change the Constitution and acquire a power now resident in the State’s jurisdiction then let that go to referendum like any change.
The Commonwealth Government can then act. As yet the Greens do not outnumber the LibLab coalition, and conservative attitudes on social issues actually hold sway, attitudes that exist in the minds of a few conservatives out of step with the community.
The external powers were tested in the High Court and found to be valid, it was not an arbitrary extension of power without the rule of law. The Commonwealth could have lost and had to compensate Tasmania but it did not.
The Australian may wish to paint the Canberra Times as naïve, for the idea that Canberran’s want to decide on changes in social practice incapable of being perceived by The Australian, but it remains that the power of veto, one of the ancient regime, it remains as distasteful as any dictation by any other form of autocracy.
phill Parsons also believes that marriage and divorce is a right regardless of sexual preference. If society wants stable relationships between adults governed by law the n it needs to change.