The inadequate consultation process over the momentous amendments to the National Capital Plan culminated on 10 May 2007 in the Senate. Senator Bob Brown’s Motion of Disallowance of four major amendments (Amendments 56, 59, 60 and 61, inappropriately called the “Griffin Legacy Amendments”) formulated by the National Capital Authority came before the Senate on that day.
In his speech introducing his Motion of Disallowance, Senator Brown stated principles and fears, principally on grounds of democracy and the role of the Senate in reviewing Executive responsibility.
Given the intensive efforts from many quarters to lobby all Senators over the issues, the debate and ensuing vote indicated nearly universal disinterest of federal parliamentarians from the two major parties in their national capital.
Particularly notable was the admission by ACT Senator Lundy (then Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee) that the JSC was misled by the National Capital Authority. Instead of a normal inquiry they opted to have a short reference one-day roundtable hearing, only to be surprised and astounded by the passion, depth and spread of informed and expert objections to the Amendments manifested at the roundtable. This was reflected in the committee’s critical report (March 2007). Lundy castigated the NCA saying “serious questions should be asked about how their so-called thorough consultation” was really carried out. However Senator Lundy stopped short of supporting the recommendations of the JSC, of which she was part.
Remarkable was ACT Senator Humphries’ absence from the debate, and also from the vote. There were only 7 votes in favour (4 Greens and 3 Democrats) of Senator Brown’s motion to disallow the Amendments. In a stirring final speech Senator Brown spoke of the “magnificence of this green capital” and referred to the need for more reflection over the Amendments, and to the grave risks in not incorporating rules and guidelines. He also raised doubts about the lower tiers of regulation being able to protect and ensure a sustainable Canberra, and concerns about the limited assessments and public participation and the scope for vested interests to prevail over vision and principles.
Senate Official Hansard transcript of debate, Thursday 10 May 2007. Refer to pages 22 to 33 for Senator Bob Brown’s speech and the debate. www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/dailys/ds100507.pdf