LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL REFORM
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES
[7.06 p.m.]: I refer to the editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald
. By the tone of the editorial the editorial writer would appear to be an ancient gentleman. He suggested that we return to having part-time members of the Legislative Council, as there were in the 1950s and 1960s. In those days members of this Chamber used to have a port and a cigar. It was a men’s club in those days - there might have been one or two token women. Members used to come here for half an hour or an hour, say how good the bills were, and then go home. No amendments were proposed. Basically, it was just a club for retired gentlemen from the aristocracy, the squattocracy and the unions.
The editorial writer suggested that we go back to those times when the upper House had no function except for providing unpaid or very low-paid jobs for people who were on the way out. But that is not the view of members of the community. In the last few days I have received letters from a number of organisations very strongly supportive of the Legislative Council as it stands now. They are opposed to the proposals of the Hon. M. R. Egan to destroy the upper House. The letter from Ocean Watch states:
I am writing to place our strong objections to your government’s proposals to erode the powers of the NSW Upper House and, indeed, place its existence at risk.
We should not need to dwell for too long on the democratic principles that we believe will be violated by the proposals. It should suffice to say that, proposals by any government which reduce either the choice of the people or the opportunity for effective debate, review and negotiation are viewed by us as anti-democratic.
Over the term of the last two Parliaments the opportunities for real and constructive debate have, we believe, created better outcomes for those affected by legislation, i.e. the environment and the people of this State.
Moreover there have been significant opportunities for public scrutiny of legislation and greater accountability forced upon the public sector, elected and employed.
The government needs to face the fact that many people in the community are seeking representation by alternatives to the established order. The monopolisation of choice would not be permitted in the market place and should not be permitted in the Parliament.
We urge you to find alternatives to the current proposals that do not put the Upper House at risk and do not fetter our rights to be represented by whomever represents our interest most accurately.
The National Australian Security Providers Association wrote:
The changes being proposed to the Upper House by the Treasurer Michael Egan give us cause for concern that there will be a further erosion of true representation of the electorate.
We are concerned that any reduction in the number of seats in the Upper House would ensure that the Upper House would not truly represent the wishes of the electing public, and would erode the power of the Upper House to stop legislation being pushed through the senate.
Another concern we have with the proposed changes is that the deadlock provision that enables the Government to call a joint sitting of Parliament would enable the Government to use its "numbers" to push through legislation that has already been rejected by the representatives of the electorate.
We strongly oppose these changes to the Upper House, and we hope you will choose to prevent these changes from taking place.
It is signed by Alexander Wilon, JP, PhD, Chief Executive Officer, National Australian Security Providers Association. The Australian Association for Humane Research wrote:
We are extremely perturbed about proposed changes to reduce the number of members in the Upper House. Any such changes will seriously impinge on the rights of minority groups to have their concerns voiced in Parliament.
It seems to me that every year there is a further erosion of democratic rights and, as our population increases, it is therefore of growing importance that personal contacts be retained and that the public can go directly to Members of Parliament who will give them a sympathetic hearing. Independent members and representatives of minority groups must continue to be able to assist people who are seeking help within the parliamentary system.
Although the huge ballot paper at the last election was certainly a problem and caused considerable amusement in the media, there are obviously many ways in which this can be obviated in the future without decreasing the size of the Upper House.
We urge you to oppose the proposed changes in the interests of genuine democratic government.
Sharon Freeman from the Central Hills Environmental Improvement Society wrote:
On several occasions I have written to the Premier regarding a proposed cemetery and crematorium for the residents of Campbelltown and as you and the Premier were kind enough to listen to my concerns and personally answer my letters I have decided to write to you about another issue. During the cemetery campaign I had need to contact many members of the Legislative Council for advice and support. I am just an everyday person with no qualifications to help me in my quest, a quest which I thought was impossible. After all, everyday people don’t walk into Parliament and speak to such important people.
I seek leave to table these letters. I have no time to read them.
Leave not granted.