Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (13:20): Nothing gets the juices of parliament going more on its first day back after the break than the Statute Update (A.C.T. Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Regulations) Bill 2016! The bill amends the Statute Update Bill 2016 to ensure that relevant Commonwealth legislation continues to apply to the ACT. Presently the applicability of the Commonwealth law in the ACT relies on the A.C.T. Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Regulations following the establishment of self-government in the ACT in 1988. As you know full well, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, the ASGR made modifications to the application of as many as 47 acts. While some of the modifications made by the ASGR were subsequently incorporated into the relevant Commonwealth acts, 18 others were not. The bill will therefore make some minor technical amendments to those remaining 18 acts, across nine portfolios, to incorporate the modifications made by the ASGR. This has not been an issue before now because, while the text of some Commonwealth law does not refer to the ACT, a court currently reads that the Commonwealth acts apply in the ACT because of the operation of the ASGR.
Self-government has been in place in the Australian Capital Territory since the Hawke government introduced the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Bill in 1988. Then Minister for the Arts and Territories Clyde Holding stated:
In establishing an ACT government, the Australian Capital Territory will be a body politic under the Crown. It will consist of a legislative arm and an executive arm to exercise powers as set out in the Bill. The dual nature of the Territory—home to both its residents and the nation's capital—will be reflected in the financial arrangements put in place by this Bill. The ACT will have the same legislative and executive powers and responsibility over finances as the States and the Northern Territory. The ACT will be treated by the Commonwealth on the same financial basis as the States and the Northern Territory. Fairness and equity will be assured.
Until relatively recently, section 35 of the act permitted the Governor-General to disallow an act of the ACT government or to recommend amendments to a piece of legislation within six months of the Legislative Assembly enacting the bill. It is a matter of record that in November 2011 the Gillard Labor government passed through the federal parliament amendments to the self-government act which abolished the veto power and the power of the Governor-General to amend the ACT laws. In its place, a majority is required in both houses of federal parliament to overturn an enactment of the ACT. That act of this parliament was well received by all citizens of the Australian Capital Territory. The Governor-General infamously utilised the prior veto power in 2006 to disallow the ACT's Civil Unions Act 2006. I recall at the time the rush of enthusiasm within the ACT and, in fact, around the nation as the Civil Unions Act was passed into law. It gave great hopes to same-sex couples that they could at last have their relationships recognised by their government, the nation and the world. Unfortunately, both the optimism and the sunshine of this law were brief. This expression of self-government from the progressive ACT proved too unpalatable for the then Prime Minister, John Howard, and he stepped in to ensure that the ACT law was quashed. In doing this, he extinguished the hopes and dreams of thousands of Australians.
Of course, 10 years later the issue of marriage equality continues to dog and haunt the coalition. History shows that a movement for equal rights can be resisted but, ultimately, can never be defeated. I am confident that marriage equality, if not within this parliament then in the next, will be delivered to Australia. Afterwards, many will asking, 'What was all the fuss about?' Nothing demonstrates the powerlessness of Prime Minister Turnbull—a Prime Minister who once proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage but has abandoned principle and instead now hides behind a process—more than the issue of same-sex marriage. Indeed, I recollect very well the Prime Minister's words when he spoke during the debate on my private member's bill in the 43rd Parliament. He had this to say:
Were, however, a free vote to be permitted I would support legislation which recognised same-sex couples as being described as in a marriage.
If only the Prime Minister were in a position to do something about granting his members a free vote. Where is the person who gave that speech in 2012?
The bill that we are debating is about housekeeping, but in this year and in this parliament we need much more than housekeeping; we need a complete renovation. Labor welcomes the opportunity to support this bill and to fix up language and some commas in a small number of Commonwealth acts, but a lot more needs to be done in this parliament. As you cast your eyes over the legislative agenda which is on display today, nothing can be more clear than the fact that this government has lost its way and has no agenda for the people of Australia. We have a lack of agenda, a lack of vision and a complete lack of unity within the coalition's party room.
I want to talk about inequality, which is what we should be debating today. We should be devoting much more of this parliament's time to the issue of inequality. A week or so ago, the Prime Minister stood up in Canberra and gave an hour-long address to the National Press Club. He never once mentioned the issue of inequality. He never mentioned the issue of the growing inequality between the people who are living in the cities and the people who are living in regional Australia—but those of us, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton, who live in regional Australia know that this is an acute issue. You do not fight growing inequality by introducing laws which give big businesses in this country a $50 billion tax cut. You do not fight inequality, as the former National Party Minister for Education in New South Wales has said, by stripping $30 billion from our school system. You do not fight inequality by cutting paid parental leave to over 80,000 new mums. You do not do it by cutting family payments or leaving young jobseekers without income for over a month. You do not do it by increasing the pension age to 70, which will be the highest pension age of any Western developed country in the world. You do not fight inequality by sending debt letters to innocent people and ruining their Christmas. You do it by addressing the economic reforms that are needed in this country to give hope and opportunity to all Australians but particularly those who are living outside the major cities.
As the reports on inequality are growing and growing, month after month, and those of us who are representing constituents in regional areas are seeing the opportunities the people in the cities take for granted—opportunities for decent education and opportunities to get access to decent healthcare services—lost, Labor is pursuing these issues. Labor is addressing them through a positive alternative set of policies. But the Prime Minister, hamstrung, without an agenda and with a backbench which is driven by division, has come to this parliament and this sitting without an agenda and without a plan for the country. We support this legislation, but the country needs much more than housekeeping.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Whitlam will have an opportunity to continue his contribution.