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ACT Libs call for public's view on MLA numbers

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Chief Minister Katy Gallagher believes debate about enlarging the Legislative Assembly is stalling and this may eventually force the Government to devolve some responsibilities from ministers to non-elected officials.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson on Monday said the Liberal Party had yet to decide whether or not to support an increase in the number of politicians elected to the Assembly and called for public opinion polling to be considered on the issue.

An expert reference group has recommended that the Assembly be progressively enlarged for its current 17 members to up to 35 MLAs.

But any change in the size of the Assembly would require a two-thirds majority of members, effectively giving the opposition a power of veto.

Ms Gallagher said she now thought it unlikely that the issue would be dealt with during this term of the Assembly.


"We can't do this on our own, we needed bipartisan support, doesn't sound like we're going to get it,'' she said

"So, it will require me now to think of what other options we have to make sure that governance remains strong in the territory.''

Ms Gallagher said she would now need to consider how the workload of the ACT's ministers was managed.

"We'd need to consider commissioning a risk audit of governance: that is looking forward to when the population gets to a certain size, when the budget's at a certain size. What arrangements do we need to put in place to ensure that a small executive in a small parliament can manage all of those risks? That's an obvious first step.''

Ms Gallagher said the expert working group had advised to her commission a risk audit if agreement could not be reached on enlarging the Assembly.

"They certainly recommended looking at that and that means that you devolve responsibilities from the executive to non-elected members of the community essentially - that's the way you manage it,'' she said.

The ACT Executive currently consists of five ministers and Ms Gallagher is expected to appoint a sixth minister during this term of government.  The expert reference group had recommended that the ACT have between seven and nine members.

Mr Hanson earlier told the assembly that the Liberal Party was still considering the issue but there had been inadequate public consultation.

Mr Hanson said Ms Gallagher should commission a public opinion poll on enlarging the assembly in the same way it had commissioned research on what Canberrans thought about Centenary celebrations.

"I'm surprised then that the government hasn't thought to do a survey of what the people of Canberra think about doubling the number of their politicians,'' Mr Hanson said.

"If we're going to talk about whether people are concerned about queuing for a hot dog and she thinks that that is something worthy of conducting a survey on, why haven't we conducted a survey of the people of Canberra to say, 'do you want to double the number of your politicians?'''

Mr Hanson said submissions made to the expert panel were not necessarily representative of broader community opinion.

"I think consulting with a group of people who are particularly engaged with the Assembly and saying that is the community showing the will is not the case,'' he said.

Mr Hanson said comparisons between the size of the assembly and other Australian parliaments and local councils were not necessarily valid, because the small size of the ACT meant that MLAs could remain close to their local communities while fulfilling parliamentary duties.

"In other jurisdictions and federally, representatives fly in or out, or drive in or out from remote locations. They only spend a certain amount of time in their parliament, maybe a third of the year,'' he said.