Category: Politics

We need more ethnic names for our electorates

Ensuring that the Australian Electoral Commission operates with integrity and in a non-partisan way is essential to the Australian political process.

Unfortunately, the current redistribution process is weakened by its lack of transparency and self-awareness.

By law, the members of each state’s redistribution committee are chosen by virtue of the public service roles they occupy – the Australian Electoral Commissioner as well as the three state-based positions of Australian Electoral Officer, Surveyor-General, and Auditor-General.

Similarly, the AEC Chair and non-judicial appointee member are appointed by the Governor-General from a shortlist of eminent judges and from the list of public service agency heads, respectively.

The lack of diversity in members of the AEC redistribution committee has the potential to introduce bias.

This has been most recently seen in the ACT redistribution proposal. The committee seemed to have few qualms in discarding all proposals received for electorate names. Instead, they have endorsed yet another white Anglo-Saxon male, Charles Bean.

Despite 30% of Australians having a culturally and linguistically diverse background, only around 5% of seats out of the 150 are named after significant CALD figures. Of the 70 electorate names considered by the Committee, it appears that only one (Ruth Arndt) was from a CALD background.

This lack of diversity is surprising and regrettable, since the ACT has many significant people from migrant backgrounds. Why was Romaldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, not deemed suitable for consideration? The instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak? Or Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium? Or even Pawe? Strzelecki, the explorer who named Mount Kosciuszko?

Choosing an electorate name is important because it becomes part of our culture. Regardless of the norms of the time, we should not be honouring Bean, an anti-Semite, when there is the opportunity to improve the representation of non-Anglo-Saxon names in Australia’s electorates. Choosing a more diverse option would familiarise people with names that sound alien to them.

With more names like Kosciuszko, Chan, Gupta, and Nguyen for our electorates, people with names hailing from those backgrounds will feel included in Australian society.

The public should know who was responsible for drawing up the list of 70 names for consideration, how diversity was considered as part of the listing process, and what criteria were used in shortlisting. If a vote on the final name is required, the vote of each committee member should be on the public record.

There is a similar lack of transparency in the process of drawing boundaries.

The ACT’s districts, and especially those centred around the town centres of Belconnen, Woden, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong have a strong local identity and community overlap. Many people in each district work, shop locally, and send their children to local schools.

Reasonable redistribution proposals that preserved these town centres were submitted for consideration. Yet the redistribution committee’s justification for discarding these alternative proposals was scant to non-existent. Their report simply notes that “many of the suggestions and comments on suggestions received advocated for a northern-central-southern split” as if that was sufficient justification.

Receiving 10 submissions when the ACT has a population of 410,000 is not enough to prove popular support for a particular boundary approach. Some of these submissions were not even from the ACT!

I call on the AEC to formalise and publish specific guidelines for carrying out future redistributions. This should include specifying the mechanisms for ensuring that all Australians are considered when naming seats, justifying a preference for specific electorate boundaries, and handling of arguments made in public submissions.

If the public does not have confidence that their submissions will get fair consideration, they will conclude that participation in our electoral processes is a waste of time.

Suggested redistribution of Federal electoral divisions in the ACT

This submission provides suggestions on the most suitable boundaries of Federal Electoral Divisions for the Australian Capital Territory. Since the adoption of the Y-plan in 1967, the ACT has adopted a distributed development approach which has strongly encouraged the formation of communities of interest in distinct regions. The most notable of these are Gungahlin, Belconnen, Inner North, Inner South, Molonglo Valley, Woden Valley, Weston Creek, and Tuggeranong.

In addition to these regions, there are three other significant Territory communities of interest that should be considered when performing the electorate redistribution:

  • Stage 1 light rail catchment zone of suburbs running from Gungahlin to Civic
  • “Heritage” Canberra comprising the inner south suburbs of Yarralumla, Deakin, Forrest, Red
    Hill, and Narrabundah
  • “Urbanised” Canberra suburbs that have extensively transitioned to medium-density apartments and townhouses comprising Braddon, Reid, Campbell/Russell, Barton, Kingston,
    and Griffith.

As per the criteria specified in section 66(3)(b) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, our proposed three seat redistribution respects the identity of all these communities as well as
predominantly aligning to the significant geographic features of Barton Highway, Bruce Ridge, Parkes Way, and the Tuggeranong Parkway. Any exceptions to these principles are discussed in the
individual electorate descriptions.

View full submission

What will the next 25 years bring for the ACT 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?

Twenty five years after ACT self-government, Commonwealth government is still in control

The current draft of the National Capital Plan is a disgrace. It exposes the lie that the Commonwealth has granted the ACT meaningful self-determination over the land within its borders.

With just a few strokes of a pen by the National Capital Authority and with no input from the ACT Government, the 701 hectare CSIRO Ginninderra site located between Fraser and Crace will have its zoning changed from “hills, ridges and buffer space” to “urban area”.

The CSIRO wants to develop an estimated 5000 to 10,000 residences on this site. Since the site is National Land, the NCA will have sole authority over whether the development proceeds.

The NCA does not have to seek approval from the ACT Government or reference the Territory Plan. It does not have to align with the ACT’s planned land release program or environmental standards. It can literally write its own planning rulebook.

At a recent information session, a CSIRO general manager made a big deal of its voluntary consultation with residents and the ACT Government. It’s clear where the power lies. Issues such as the cost of upgrading roads and infrastructure can be ignored at the whim of the CSIRO and the NCA.

To be fair, the CSIRO has good intentions, wanting to build a little city based on their scientists’ ideas of best practice while profiting from it. It’s just unfortunate that current legislation allows them to do this while completely ignoring democratic rights in the ACT.

We’ve been through this story before. In 2005, the Commonwealth unilaterally approved development of office accommodation and goods retailing facilities at the airport – now known as Brindabella Park and Majura Park. For many years afterward, people were forced to commute to these sites on roads lacking capacity and without suitable public transport options.

The situation also parallels the Immigration and Border Protection mega-precinct wanted by Secretary Mike Pezzullo, who ignored local impacts because he could. The good news is that a sustained campaign by local politicians and Belconnen residents has led to the Department of Finance requiring an assessment of local impact before any major accommodation changes for public servants take place.

The NCA serves an ongoing and important role in our national capital, ensuring that “the Commonwealth’s national capital interests in the Territory are fully protected, without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community”.

But 25 years after self-government, there is no possible justification for the NCA to be responsible for approving plans for residential property development at a site 14km away from Parliament House in the heart of suburban Canberra.

In fact the NCA’s entire justification for changing the zoning to Urban Area in the National Capital Plan is, and I quote, that the “CSIRO requested this change”.

It would be laughable if the consequences were not so significant.

Most people understand that areas of the ACT with “special characteristics of the National Capital” are set aside as so-called Designated Areas under the control of the NCA. Commonly viewed by overseas visiting politicians and dignitaries, these areas include the Parliamentary Triangle, Lake Burley Griffin, connections from Parliament to the airport and the main approach routes to Canberra.

However, fewer people know that the Commonwealth may also declare any area of the ACT to be needed for Commonwealth use. Once this happens, the area becomes National Land and is no longer under the jurisdiction of the ACT government.

The problem is there is no obligation to ever return planning control over National Land to the Territory. National Land status should only exist on land actively used for Commonwealth purposes. Once land is surplus to requirements, Territory planning laws should automatically take effect again (although naturally the Commonwealth would retain ownership). Anything else denies ACT residents the right to have the Territory Government they elect managing their affairs.

During the consultation phase on the draft National Capital Plan, the NCA can still enable informed debate by publishing a full list and diagram of National Land areas. ACT residents deserve to know this much.

It is wrong to assume the interests of the Commonwealth will never align with the interests of the ACT Government and Canberra community. Departments and agencies are just following the rules as they currently exist. However, after 25 years of self-government a thorough review of National Land arrangements needs to take place to ensure the best interests of everyone concerned.

Speeches delivered at the ACT ALP Annual Conference #actalp15

Kim Fischer speaking at ALP ACT Annual Conference

At the ACT ALP Annual Conference in 2015, a rule change was proposed to drop the mandatory requirement for union membership to be a member of the ALP, in line with a similar rule change passed at the earlier ALP National Conference. I was proud to speak in support of the rule change.

Union speechI also spoke on a motion commending the importance of a platform that emphasises a high quality early childhood education:

Early education speech

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