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Push to fix 'awkward' self-govt

Date

Noel Towell

Ballot box

Ballot box Photo: Fairfax Media

The ACT needs another referendum to fix its ''hybrid, unfortunate'' model of self-government, a leading constitutional lawyer has said.

Professor George Williams told an Assembly committee that a plebiscite might be a step toward resolving the ACT's ''awkward and problematic'' sense of political identity.

He also believes that the ACT is years behind the Northern Territory in moving toward full democratic rights for citizens.

But the University of NSW academic's call for a vote could revive painful memories of 1989, when the territory had self-government forced on it, despite rejecting the idea in a referendum more than 10 years previously.

The Assembly has appointed a committee to explore ways to reform self-government, but Professor Williams has told it that any effort to overhaul the territory's system, which he says leaves its citizens with second-class status, is doomed to fail without the clear backing of the people.

But a referendum would not be the first step in the ''people's process'' of reform, Professor Williams said.

''Before you get to that point, you'll need some sort of people's process, Canberrans involved in deciding what sort of self-government they want instead of simply proceeding with one that has been imposed upon them against their will,'' he said.

''It may well be on this occasion that a plebiscite is not about whether there should be self-government, but what form should it take, what do Canberrans see as the self-government system they aspire to.''

Professor Williams urged reform to create pride in the capital's democratic system.

''I certainly don't want to say that people aren't proud to be Canberrans because they are, and for good reason because it's a great place to live ,'' he said.

''Where the problems lie is the identity when it comes to these governance arrangements and the place of the Assembly and its relationship with the community.

''These are things that do need to be sorted out, it's long past time and with the centenary of Canberra approaching, you'd think 100 years down the track could make these kind of decision instead of having them imposed on them.

''I think the real problem with ACT self-government is not only is it a system that Canberrans didn't get a say about, it's a system they would have probably rejected.''

Professor Williams said the ACT was at real risk of being left behind the Northern Territory, which had garnered bipartisan political support for far-reaching reforms that could lead to state-hood.

''There is a very clear sense of identity in the Northern Territory when it comes to the sort of system of self-government that they want, the control that territorians there want over their own lives and the capacity to make local decisions without them being overridden.''

Attorney-General Simon Corbell reiterated, before the committee, the government's enthusiasm for reforming self-government but was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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