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Hawke feared left-leaning ACT Labor Government: study

Former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

Former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

A previously unpublished study reveals former Prime Minister Bob Hawke was concerned that granting self-government in the ACT could result in the election of a left-leaning Labor Government.

His view is canvassed in the report by Michael Brown, senior private secretary to then Territories Minister Gordon Scholes.

"The Prime Minister's view of self-government was, in Scholes' opinion, strongly coloured by his view of the ACT branch of the Labor Party," Mr Brown wrote in a sub-thesis for the ANU.

Minister for Territories Gordon Scholes in 1984.

Minister for Territories Gordon Scholes in 1984.

"Notwithstanding the commitment in the party platform, Hawke found it difficult to get enthused over an idea that had significant budgetary impact, particularly if the likely result was a left-leaning Labor Government in the ACT.

"Perhaps because of the platform commitment, however, he let Scholes proceed with the development of the idea and restricted his own involvement to the odd letter about aspects of the electoral system."

In the paper, “Gordon Scholes and ACT Self-Government: A study in competing influences”, Mr Brown draws on his experience in the ministerial offices of Parliament House as well as interviews with Mr Scholes after his retirement from politics.

This month the National Archives released Cabinet papers covering the period when the Hawke Government considered self-government.

The Canberra Times reported the ceremonial title of “Lord Mayor of Canberra” was formally considered for the Chief Minister as Cabinet wrestled with the issue.

In his study, Mr Brown who died last year, traces the tortuous path of implementing self-government, including the various models discussed by Cabinet and the Senate's initial rejection of the Government's preferred model.

The Hawke Labor Government won the 1983 election on a platform that included a commitment to self-government for the ACT.

The first Minister responsible for the ACT, Tom Uren, appointed a task force to advise him on the implementation of self-government.

“However, it was his successor, the Hon Gordon Scholes, who all but made self-government a reality,” Mr Brown says.

“Scholes argued that single member electorates were necessary to avoid the sort of backroom deals and influence-trading that multi-member electorates returning independents, single issue and minority party candidates would involve in order to form a government."

Mr Brown reveals Mr Hawke wrote to Mr Scholes on May 12 1986 saying, “under no circumstances will I support any electoral system based totally on proportional representation, regardless of the combination of electorates and members”.

The letter was designed to deal with the Democrats' push in the Senate for a voting system based solely on proportional representation – which favours smaller parties -- by setting out the “outer limits of the Government's willingness to compromise” on the issue.

Mr Scholes retired from the ministry after the July 1987 election without succeeding in having the Senate accept his model for self-government.

The Hawke Government later proposed self-government based on the d'Hondt electoral system.

This was passed by both Houses of Parliament and elections held for an ACT Legislative Assembly of 17 members on March 4, 1989, with a minority Labor Government under Chief Minister Rosemary Follett taking office on May 11.

The electoral system was later changed to Hare-Clark.

Mr Scholes said on Friday Mr Hawke's change of attitude towards proportional representation would have involved taking advice from then Member for Canberra Ros Kelly.

“I think self-government was one of those things that was inevitable but an awful lot of people didn't want it,” Mr Scholes told Fairfax Media.

Before becoming a minister, Mr Scholes had been Speaker in the House of Representatives during the 1975 constitutional crisis.

Mr Brown says of Mr Scholes: "His knowledge of anything related to postage stamps is encyclopaedic as is his memory for sporting achievements and he is happy to talk about either for hours."



  • Interesting article but I can't help but think that self-government has resulted in unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and added tax imposts with limited improvements to public service provision. I guess the same could be said about all the states. The fact that we have so many divergent health, education, transport, law-enforcement etc. systems. all requiring independent management, policy formulation, financing, etc. is anachronistic. A rational conclusion to the Hawke and Keating trade reforms of the 80s would be to reduce behind the boarder impediments, harmonize state legislation and turn the state governments of today into glorified local councils. I am pretty sure that you would see immediate, and sustained, improvement in productivity growth from static and dynamic benefits. Ha, something for the Productivity Commission to have a look into! If only!!

    Date and time
    January 21, 2013, 4:31PM
    • "Lord Mayor of Canberra" says it all. "Chief Minister " is an overblow, overhyped title.

      Date and time
      January 21, 2013, 8:49PM
      • Didn't we have a referendum and voted it down? I was only 10, but I'm sure I remember we voted against it. Can someone explain why we got it anyway? Seems like a kangaroo court waste of time if you ask me. Lightweight assembly, a council on steroids with all the added bureaucracy and committee-based decisions leading to poor policy outcomes, transport for example. Just saying...

        Llama Farma
        Weston Creek
        Date and time
        January 21, 2013, 10:30PM
        Comments are now closed

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