You are here

Restoration of House of Assembly to 35 Members

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Tags: House of Assembly Restoration, Parliament, House of Assembly, Political Leadership, Democracy

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I move un-numbered motion -

That the House supports in-principle restoring the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 25 to 35.

I can indicate that we will call for a vote at the end of Greens' private members' time.

Mr Speaker, today we are asking for the House to provide in-principle support for restoring the seats in the House of Assembly from 25 to 35. The voices calling for the restoration of seats are numerous and diverse. After the 2018 election, federal politicians from all three parties - Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, Greens Senator Nick McKim, and federal Labor MP Julie Collins - called for reforms to see an improved pool of talent for ministries, with senators Abetz and McKim in a very rare unity ticket calling specifically for a restoration of seats. Voices in the Legislative Council have also called for restoration. This includes experienced legislators, former president, Jim Wilkinson, and former member of the Legislative Council, Greg Hall. Mr Wilkinson has stated: 'I do not think parliament has worked as well as it did prior to 1998'. I believe every member of this House would have to agree with that if they looked at the evidence.

Referring to the size of the House of Assembly, Greg Hall raised the question: 'Can a government team of at least 13 sufficiently run a cabinet, parliament, and dedicate time to committee and constituent work? Can an opposition sufficiently hold the government of the day to account?' As a House of review that sees the legislation we send upstairs, the Legislative Council has some insight into both parliamentary and executive disfunction.

Constitutional Society president Peter Chapman, award-winning political journalist Wayne Crawford, historian Reg Watson, the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Tasmanian Council of Social Services, corporate governance lecturer Tom Baxter, and political analyst Richard Herr have all voiced support for the restoration of numbers, as has most recently the House of Assembly's former Speaker, Sue Hickey.

I recall conversations with former Labor member for Lyons, David Llewellyn, and former Liberal member for Lyons, Rene Hidding, who were here at the time in 1998 when the seats were cut, who both expressed sincere regret at the reduction in numbers and therefore the diminishing of representation in the House of Assembly.

In 2020, representatives from Labor, the Greens, and the Liberals unanimously called on the parliament to pass the House of Assembly Restoration Bill of 2018 in a final report of the Select Committee on the House of Assembly Restoration Bill. To date, this House has yet to formally provide in-principle support. Today, we are asking each party in here to formalise their position, and the position of their respective representatives on the House of Assembly Restoration Committee, as well as the members present here who were not represented on the committee.

Discussions around reducing seats in the Tasmanian parliament began in 1983, the same year Bob Brown entered parliament on a countback following the resignation of Democrats MP Norm Sanders. In 1983, Liberal premier Robin Grey established an advisory committee which reported the next year. The Ogilvie Report recommended against any reduction in the size of the Tasmanian parliament.

The issue was again raised in 1993 following the breakdown of the 1989 Labor-Greens Accord in 1992. Liberal premier Ray Groom introduced a pair of linked measures: a reduction in the House of Assembly from 35 to 30 members, and a 40 per cent salary increase for the remaining MPs, and in a decision which dogged this House and everyone in it for years these issues were untied during the parliamentary process and only the 40 per cent pay raise was passed into law.

Following this in 1994, premier Groom established a board of inquiry into the size of the Tasmanian Parliament which reported in June 1994. The Morling Report again recommended against any reduction in the size of the Tasmanian House of Assembly. The issue was again raised in 1997, one year into the Liberal-Greens minority arrangement with the defeated proposal for a referendum to reduce the size of parliament by removing a lower House electorate and reducing the size of the Legislative Council to 16.

Several models were floated after this point between the Liberals, ALP and Legislative Council. Eventually in 1998, the parliament took the politically-motivated and ill-advised move of reducing the numbers in the House of Assembly from 35 to 25 and the Legislative Council from 19 to 15.

Mr Speaker, the timing of all these proposals very clearly corresponds to periods when the Greens were at their height of their influence. To this day, this reform is used as an example of political collusion in political science courses. Labor and the Liberals colluded to reduce the size of parliament in order to try to eliminate us. In fact, during the debate in 1998, the late Liberal MP, Michael Hodgman, made no secret that it was his sincere wish that we be eliminated, wiped from the face of the political earth. This move - as demonstrated by the fact that Dr Woodruff and I are in this place, and I am standing here now reading this speech - did not work and another balance-of-power parliament was elected in 2010.

While the 1998 reduction in seats arguably has not achieved the objective of limiting the influence of the Greens, until the 2021 election they have quite effectively excluded independents from this House. Ms Johnston, my colleague, the member for Clark, is the first independent elected to this House in their own right since the 1998 reduction in the number of seats.

Comparisons, Mr Speaker, are often made between Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory which has a similar population and the same-sized lower House, however, this is a poor example for a number of reasons. The ACT has a geographic area that is just 3.5 per cent the size of Tasmania. The ACT is far less spatially and socially disparate than Tasmania which is a reasonable argument for needing less-broad representation. The ACT is also the seat of the Australian Government containing 37.5 per cent of the federal public service. Access to federal politicians, public servants and public services is far easier in the nation's capital than in other jurisdictions such as Tasmania.

The ACT is also a territory with historic structural differences to Tasmania. The ACT was not self-governing until 1988 when the Australian Parliament passed the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988. The ACT has no constitutional protections or rights. It only has legislative power granted by the 1988 act, legislative power that can therefore be overridden by the Australian Government. As a result of the ACT Legislative Assembly's constituting document being the Commonwealth regulations, the ACT was not able to alter its own composition until amendments were passed in 2013. Subsequently, in 2014 the number of seats was increased to 25.

The choice of 25 seats for the ACT Assembly was made as a result of the analysis of an expert committee. The committee's preference was to increase the number of seats to 35, however, they were concerned that more than doubling the number immediately would not be appropriate. The expert committee recommended the ACT increase seats to 25 in 2016 and the act includes provisions to increase the number again to 35 in 2020, or failing that in 2024, but the act in the end did not include these provisions.

Looking more broadly than the ACT, there are 30 countries in the world structured as federations like Australia. Within these there are 574 sub-national jurisdictions, 496 of which have legislature data available. Those not included are the United Arab Emirates and Papua New Guinea which have no sub-national legislatures, and Sudan and South Sudan which do not have data available for their jurisdictions.

Tasmania's lower House is comparatively very small. The average size of lower House for states with a population between 400 000 and 600 000, like Tasmania's, is 45 members. Of the 75 bicameral parliaments across the globe, Tasmania has the third-smallest lower House, beaten only by two states in the USA, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. These states have lower houses of 20 and 21 seats respectively and populations of 54 000 and 56 000, or thereabouts, respectively.

Tasmania also has the seventh-smallest combined legislature of the 75 bicameral parliaments. The sixth smaller legislatures again include the Northern Mariana Islands; American Samoa; Chuuk, with a population of 55 000 in the Federated States of Micronesia; three states in Argentina: La Rioja, with a population of 380 000; San Luis, with a population of 495 000; and Corrientes, which is the only bicameral sub-national legislature in the world to have a smaller combined legislature than us with a higher population, at a bit over 1 million.

Looking at both bicameral lower Houses and unicameral parliaments, Tasmania has the eighty-fifth smallest out of 574 states. Of the 84 parliaments smaller than ours, the Economic Intelligence Unit only classifies three as full democracies - Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. All of these are Canadian states and have populations under 50 000 people. Of the rest, 18 are flawed democracies; 12 are hybrid regimes; 32 are authoritarian regimes, and 19 are unclassified due to being micro-states. Of the 72 fully democratic states, our lower House is ranked sixty-ninth in size, only larger than the three previously mentioned Canadian states with populations under 50 000 and tied with the Northern Territory and ACT here in Australia, which both have smaller populations.

It is also worth noting that Australian states have more responsibilities than average state equivalents in federal models of government. In addition, Australia's Constitution provides for one of the most extensive models of concurrent responsibility in the world. This means there are fewer areas where the state has no responsibility than in many other federal countries, increasing the number of ministries required for effective administration. The bottom line is that by any measure our parliament is a very small one. It is too small. It should also be noted that even should we restore the numbers to 35 we will still be 10 seats short of the average size of state parliaments in our population range. This can hardly be argued to be too large.

Since 1998 we have ramped up the role of parliamentary secretaries. Prior to 1988 the only parliamentary secretary that the Parliamentary Research Service could find was then Liberal MP and former Liberal leader in 1996, Bob Cheek. During the terms after 1998, when the numbers were cut, the parliament averaged three parliamentary secretaries per term. It would appear that backbenchers have been increasingly co-opted for portfolio administration, further limiting the time available for quality committees and electoral work on behalf of their constituents, and that is arguably our most important work.

In terms of the models, some submitters to the select committee that we established proposed the establishment of a seven-seat five-member electorate model, rather than increasing the number of members of our current electorates to seven. There would be significant drawbacks with this position. This would involve giving up the significant advantage of having the same state and federal electorates. This has administrative advantages and also serves to make it easier for constituents to have a clear understanding of who their local members are at both levels of government, as well as which electorates they need to vote in.

Part of what we learned from the 2021 joint Assembly and Council elections was that people in Tasmania have a clearer understanding of their electorates of Braddon, Bass, Clark, Franklin and Lyons than other electorates in Australia, and maybe it is something to do with Hare-Clark, but Tasmanians are a very politically educated and connected island community. Having seven seats with five members would also be costly and counterproductive to the intent of restoration.

The reduction of seats was intended to suppress the election of minority voices and yet here we are. The target was the Greens, but the reality is that it has affected representation from independent members more. Part of restoring the seats in the House is an acknowledgement that in a democracy, suppressing the will of the voters is just plain wrong; indeed, it is contrary to the objectives of Andrew Inglis Clark and our Hare-Clark voting system.

Cutting the number of seats in the House of Assembly was political engineering akin to the gerrymander of Joe Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland - where I grew up - and in the United States. In the same way, a decision to change the number of electorates for partisan advantage rather than simply reversing the 1998 reduction is an anti-democratic proposition. It would also place a huge administrative burden on the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. The majority of people who provided evidence to our select committee on this proposal ultimately favoured five seats of seven members. Ultimately, representatives from each party on the select committee did not support the seven-electorate proposition and that is because they listened to the evidence.

Although not explicit in the motion, it is our expectation that the House's in-principle support would implicitly align with the recommendations each party endorsed through the select committee in their endorsement of the 2018 bill. It is also in line with the agreement signed onto by then opposition leader, Will Hodgman, then premier, David Bartlett, and then Greens leader, Nick McKim in 2010, where all three parties agreed that the House of Assembly needed to be restored to 35 seats.

The House of Assembly Restoration Bill was widely supported by submitters to the public committee process, as well as representatives from each party present in the Chamber today. Importantly, it was also considered perfectly functional by the Electoral Commission, which has not provided feedback on any alternative model, and nor has the broader public. The model proposed in the endorsed 2018 bill also has the advantage of reverting back to the pre 1998 situation in this House, which on top of being historically functional was recommended to be retained by a number of select committees prior to those changes in 1998.

Mr Speaker, I hope that members in this House can put aside politics to support this motion and ultimately support legislated restoration of the numbers. I believe that increasingly, Tasmanians recognise the need to restore the numbers in the House of Assembly. They recognise that this Chamber is too small to meet their need, and they recognise that they are short-changed on representation when so many government members either have to be ministers or have to serve on committees or have other very significant responsibilities in this place. Tasmanians have seen already one premier collapsing under the strain of his workload, they see ministers groaning under the burden of multiple portfolios, and in restoring the numbers we add an extra position to the Cabinet, which takes the pressure off hardworking ministers and the premier of the day.

I believe it is well past time that we agreed that the House needs to be restored, and wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if after the election we came in here into a 35-seat House where there was a deeper talent pool, backbenchers who could genuinely represent their constituencies? It would lift the quality of debate in this place and it would give talented new MPs an opportunity to shine in this place rather than being burdened with parliamentary secretary roles or ministerial roles when they have only been elected for a very short time, which is what happens now.

I commend this motion that the House give its in-principle support to restore the numbers in the House of Assembly to 35 to the House.

Dr Woodruff - Hear, hear.


Mr ROCKLIFF (Braddon - Premier) - Mr Speaker, I rise to speak on the motion on our in principle support for restoring the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 25 to 35 seats.

Ms O'Connor has mentioned our former leader, Will Hodgman, Mr Bartlett, Labor leader, and the Leader of the Greens at the time, Nick McKim, in tripartisan correspondence, if my memory serves me correctly, with regard to support for restoring the House to 35 members. Our party has been open in support to increase the size of parliament. We have also said that it is not currently a priority of ours. We reflect Tasmanians' priorities right now. If you were to ask them, they would probably say that this is not a priority. They would mention health, education, housing as well as the vital job of improving safety for our children and women. Tasmanians would expect us to put those priorities first.

In the context of this debate, it also needs to be recognised that the next state election is not due until 2025 so there is no immediate need to address and rectify this today. However, I accept that we do need a very functional parliament and, importantly, a functional committee system. It is an important part of our democracy and the workings of the parliament, where members of parliament can have the time and the numbers and a tripartisan way of looking into matters that concern Tasmanians but might not be at the forefront of individual minds at any particular time.

Those committees that have been formed are constructive. I have been on a number of them in my 12 years of opposition. I was on the committee around the hemp inquiry and the need for legislation. I mentioned the joint select committee in the parliament yesterday - it was tripartisan including independents - when it came to providing recommendations to the parliament and the government around the establishment of the Integrity Commission. That was unanimously endorsed as I recall.

No member of this House can deny this report. It is a significant report that was diligently worked on by a number of members who are still in this parliament and some who no longer work within the parliament. The members of the committee for the House of Assembly Select Committee on the Restoration of Assembly (Restoration Bill) final report were Ms O'Connor, Ms Dow, Ms Hickey, Ms Haddad, Mrs Petrusma and Mrs Rylah.

It is a good insight into the breadth and depth of feeling within the Tasmanian community about how important this issue is when I see comments from the Chair of the TCCI, the Chair of TasCOSS at the time, Ms Goods; past members of parliament, Greg Hall, Julian Amos and many other contributors to this report. It is insightful and provides solid evidence of the need to tackle this issue. I see today as a step forward in that process with regard to this Assembly. having its say.

We have always said on this side of the House when the time is right, parliament should be returned to its original 35 members. Ms White has made some comments with respect to these matters as well. I note Ms Dow, Ms Haddad, Mrs Petrusma, Ms O'Connor and others who have contributed to this report. So, given the comments that I have seen publicly there is tripartisan support in this House to restore the numbers to 35.

However, I suspect this is not a popular issue in the Tasmanian community. I also believe while it is not a popular issue, it is increasingly an important one. It is time to begin the conversation. Ministers have large workloads. Those on the other side of the House who have been ministers would recognise that, but none of us come into these roles with any illusions. It is about large workloads. I suspect irrespective of the portfolio responsibility that each individual minister has, they would work to their ultimate capacity irrespective of the number of portfolios and do a really thorough job.

It is not just those in this House who I believe would, in principle, support this issue, as we are debating on today. I have mentioned external stakeholders, including the TCCI, and TasCOSS.

The final Committee Report into the Restoration Bill found that the reduction in the number of members in 1998 eroded the underpinning purpose of the Hare Clark system which is to achieve proportional representation. I know there are differing views on the Hare Clark system. Nonetheless, the reduction in the numbers undermined, eroded, the underpinning purpose of the Hare Clark system, which I believe many Tasmanians would support and understand.

The diversity of interest within the Tasmanian community would be better represented in a restored House of Assembly. The reduction in the number of members of the House of Assembly has reduced its capacity to undertake its parliamentary function, particularly in regard to timely forums for parliamentary committees, as I and Ms O'Connor have spoken about and no doubt others may do so today as well.

The report specifically notes that senior political figures and former members of parliament from across the political spectrum agree that it was a mistake to reduce the numbers in the House of Assembly. I have said, and I will say it again today, and after today, our priorities as a Government are focused on strengthening Tasmania's future and making Tasmanians' priorities our priorities. We are about improving outcomes in health, housing, education and keeping Tasmanians safe, and taking action on the cost of living while also investing to continue the growth in our economy which has occurred under our Government since 2014. They will always be our priorities and should be the priorities of any government. These are the priorities that we, as elected representatives have.

We are here on a daily basis, go to functions, correspondence we receive, social media that we look at - for those that do -

Mr O'Byrne - It's only to read the comics, mate.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I have learnt that, well and truly. And, of course, walking up the street. People will always have a crack, maybe, but ultimately, they want a conversation about the priorities in a very respectful way, whether it is our education or our health system.

When things need fixing, like the restoration of the numbers of the House of Assembly, we need to have the courage to fix them. This issue has probably been debated since 1998. Ms O'Connor mentioned a couple of people in the parliament at that time who would publicly and certainly privately say that it was a mistake to reduce the numbers in the House of Assembly. This is one of those issues that we have long supported in principle. I believe it is time to outline our intention to take action once and for all. It is too an important issue. It will not be a popular issue for Tasmanians, Mr Speaker, but it is the right thing to do.

I will confirm that the Liberal Government and me as Premier will, before the end of the year, introduce a bill into this House to restore the numbers of parliament from 25 to 35, and this will come into effect at the next state election.

Ultimately, government and all the work that we do in this place is not about popularity. We all recognise the need for this to happen. We all say it privately, I know we do, and sometimes you have to have the courage of your convictions and do what is right. That is exactly what we will do because ultimately this is about ensuring that the Tasmanian parliament not only most effectively represents our constituents right across Tasmania, right across our regions in every electorate, but the Tasmanian parliament remains in the best possible shape to deliver the best possible outcomes for all Tasmanians. I support the motion today.

Members - Hear, hear.


Ms WHITE (Lyons - Leader of the Opposition) - Mr Speaker, I thank the speakers who have spoken already. I am interested to learn that the Government has decided to take this decision and the Premier has made the announcement during private members' time. It is nice when you can have a debate on a motion in this House and actually get some answers, so thank you.

Ms O'Connor - And a total surprise to me, I have to say, that legislation will come into the House before the end of the year.

Ms WHITE - Yes, maybe this is the new way of doing things, and it is refreshing.

I was interested to hear Ms O'Connor's contribution. I enjoyed learning about the history of this place that we represent our community in and the different conversations that have taken place over the last 30-odd years, and the work that went into that committee report which my colleagues Ms Dow and Ms Haddad, were representing the Labor Party on. I know there was a lot of evidence received throughout that process that led to the report being a consensus report, which also speaks volumes on how parties have been feeling about this issue for some time.

It is true to note that in 2010 the then leaders of the respective parties represented in this place agreed that the House should be restored to 35 members. It was something that the then Liberal leader, Will Hodgman, went back on, I have to say, when there was a Labor minority government elected. I believe he saw a political opportunity to walk away from that and play some politics. Here we are 12 years later and the Premier, who was the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party at that time, has announced that the Government will be taking action to bring in legislation to the parliament this year. It has taken 12 years for the Liberal Party to do what they said they would do.

Hopefully that is not a pattern for future behaviour if it is going so long to get action on things like this when promises are made, however, I suspect that across Tasmania as this news breaks it will be of great interest to our community to understand that the Tasmanian Government has decided that they will introduce a bill of this nature. It is something that many people across our community have a great deal of interest in. There has been a lot of public discussion about this topic for some time now. It is true to say that the Labor Party has supported in principle the restoration of this House to 35; it has been our position for more than a decade now. We will wait to see the detail of the bill that the Premier has outlined will be tabled later this year to see how the Government intends to achieve that objective to restore the House to 35.

Ms O'Connor spoke about seven electorates of five or whether it would be five electorates of seven, or whether there will be some other makeup. We are waiting to find out more information from the Government about what their intention is with respect to how they might restore the House to 35 members, but I can express our support for the restoration to 35 and our support for this motion before the House today.

I would like to reflect on the course of the last five months, in particular on the state of government here in Tasmania, which really has been a catalyst for the conversation we are having. The community has really escalated this as an issue they want to talk about because of the instability of this Government since the beginning of the year, with the resignations of ministers and the resignation of former premier, Peter Gutwein. I believe it is largely for these reasons that this issue has become topical again this year.

It is because of the instability of the Government, the changes we have seen in the leadership of the Government and the chaos at times of decision-making of this Government, which has meant that the community has really started to question whether we have enough members in this place. When I have been asked about this in the media, my response has been a little tongue-in-cheek, Mr Speaker, but reflective of the circumstances in that it would not matter how many members of parliament we have, the fact is that the Liberal Party is churning through them at a pretty rapid rate at the minute. That has been very destabilising for our community and for the agencies that are working to ministers, as well as the stakeholders who do not know who their minister is going to be, given some of them have had a change of portfolio a number of times just this year alone.

Even with a restoration to 35, and if that includes an increase in the size of Cabinet from nine to perhaps 10, which I believe it used to be, it still will not go as far as some people might expect in reducing the workload of ministers, which has been spoken about as of concern to people. Those portfolios will still need to be shared across that Cabinet, whether it is nine or 10. I would be surprised to see if it was expanded to be any greater than 10, but maybe the Government has a different idea about that. We will see when they table their bill.

The workload across ministers will continue to be very great, however, the work in the parliament will be better shared across the backbench. From my time in government, when I was on the backbench, there was a period where I sat on eight committees. The parliament at that time, given the make-up of their numbers in the House, had a very active committee system. We had standing committees that this Government has abolished. There was a standing committee on community development and others and those committee structures have been abolished by this Government. Now we just have opportunities for select committees to be established, which as we know relies on the numbers of this House to support that, and the Government has the numbers.

I believe government backbenchers should be a little relieved to know the Government has protected you in large part from the committee obligations that previous members of this place had responsibility for. In saying that, I am not saying that is a good thing, I am saying that what that means is the community misses out because those committees play a very important role in highlighting certain issues from time to time. It is disappointing that the Government has abolished those standing committees because now references that would have previously been sent to those committees to be examined have to be supported by the majority of this House in order to be successful and many times the Government votes them down.

I do not want to pre-empt an order of the day but there is an opportunity to test that in our private members' time today when we will be seeing whether the Government is agreeable to the establishment of a committee to look at the cost of living in Tasmania, which we believe is a significant challenge confronting our state, where in the past a standing committee could have decided that they themselves were going to investigate such a matter. That is no longer an option available to members of this place. I hope that with the restoration to 35 we could see the re-establishment of those functions of this House as well, because that would provide greater transparency for decisions of government but also hopefully greater engagement for our community in the work that we do in this place on their behalf.

Mr Speaker, I will conclude my remarks there because I am sure there are other members who wish to also make a contribution. I will wrap up by saying that we support the motion, we are pleased to hear the Government and the Premier make a firm commitment but, of course, we will wait to see the detail of how you seek to achieve that.


Ms JOHNSTON (Clark) - Mr Speaker, I will keep my contribution short because I am sure there are other members who would like to speak to this. Can I say how excited I am to have seen what I have just witnessed: parliament working together to achieve better outcomes and enhanced democracy? I want to take a moment to thank the Premier for his announcement this morning and to give full credit to Ms O'Connor, the Leader of the Greens, and to Ms White, the Leader of the Opposition -

Ms O'Connor - It is cooperative politics.

Ms JOHNSTON - for doing this - yes - for bringing this on and having this important discussion. Obviously, it was a great honour to be the first Independent elected to this place since 1996 when the numbers were reduced, and there is a whole history around that.

In my contribution I acknowledge that there was some belief for a while that increasing the numbers in parliament is unpopular in the community and conversations used to be: 'Well, who would want more politicians?'. We are up there with real estate agents and the like in terms of professions. I believe we are quite a wonderful profession but that was the common commentary in the community at the time. Increasingly when I go out and about and talk to members of my community about what their priorities might be, they talk about health, housing and education. They talk about some of the barriers to making progress in those areas.

One of the things they talk about is the lack of numbers in parliament. They are genuinely surprised when they learn the number of portfolios that ministers have: 'How can they possibly be across such huge numbers? How can they possibly be diving deep into their portfolios and tackling some of the important issues?'. So, for them, it is a high priority that we increase the size of this parliament because they want better outcomes, they want more representation, they want more minds and approaches and voices coming to solve some of those really difficult problems that we continually have to deal with. Again, it goes to the work that committees do and that have more participation in committees - more committees delving into those really difficult and challenging issues.

Mr Speaker, I will conclude my contribution there and say how wonderful it is to sit here in this Chamber today and see everyone working for the greater good to enhance democracy and to make sure that, as a parliament and as a state, we can tackle some of those bigger issues.


Mr O'BYRNE (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, whilst I share the optimism, it is always the detail that we need to watch. I share in the spirit of the debate that this is quite a significant moment in the parliament's life and in democracy in Tasmania, and it should not be lost that this has been a passionate issue for many people.

The Greens have held this view since the decision back in the late 1990s to reduce the size of parliament. I know in my experience in the parliamentary caucus and prior of the Labor Party and prior to that as a member of the party, this issue was probably from the mid-2000s onwards strongly debated inside the Labor Party, reflecting the debate inside the community. I know the former premier, and the former leader of the opposition, Will Hodgman in 2009 and 2010 - I think other speakers have spoken about the process of that debate and that discussion around at that time - that this is an issue that has been one of the most difficult ones to come to terms with because.

As people have said, more politicians are not popular. However, what is important is a functioning democracy and in the Westminster system having a functioning parliament where people are able to represent the views of their local community, engage through the committee process and really enable the House to critique and cross-examine policies and issues, contemporary issues in our community. Having a functioning committee system in this Westminster system is important.

Around the time when I was a union official back in the late 1990s, everyone was angry about the wage increase and the popular thing to do was to have a crack at politicians. There was a decision taken by the parties at the time to make that change. At the time it was politically popular but it did damage the state of democracy in Tasmania and I think, upon reflection, even those people who were involved in those discussions and decisions at the time have reflected on that and have acknowledge that that was not the right thing to do.

I acknowledge the bravery of the Premier. This is not an easy thing you have just done. I acknowledge that you have not done it lightly and I know, as you have said, we have all had private conversations around the state of the House and the numbers and the functioning of this place. What you have done is brave - and I do not mean it in the Yes Minister 'courageous minister' sense. I mean it in that you are doing it in the best interests of Tasmania. I know back in the time it was popular to kick politicians. Everyone is right - if there is a difference of opinion on the major parties on this issue it was never going to be broken.

The Leader of the Opposition, Rebecca White, has said, 'Let us see the detail,' and I think we all provide that caveat, 'let us see the detail,' but I believe, in principle, there is broad support across this House for this announcement and to work through what has been a very prickly issue and I know, as I said, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s it was the popular thing to do.

Moving forward, when I was elected to this House in 2010, I was actually sworn into the ministry before I was sworn into the parliament. To be honest, I had only seen parliament from up there. Rarely would I come down into these seats. I did not really have a great understanding apart from a rudimentary understanding of the functions of this House. I should not have been put in that position. I am not saying that anyone who gets elected should not get access to a ministry. I believe it is on the merits and the parties will make their decision on who is best to hold those executive positions. However, I did not have the opportunity to be a local member, I did not have the opportunity to engage in the processes of the House.

I think that made it difficult for me to be the minister that potentially I wanted to be and fully understand, because as soon as you are elected, I remember coming back from Government House, being sworn in before even standing in this place on the Floor and being given a whole range of briefings and portfolios and decisions to make. It was quite a heady time. I am not saying that I made the wrong decisions, or that I was inexperienced in that. I think I made good decisions but upon reflection I would have enjoyed an opportunity to be a good local member and be able to spend time in the electorate, and also have time to understand parliamentary process, because better decisions, broadly, not just in my portfolio, but as a parliament, could have been made.

I remember at the end of my time in 2014, my staff added up the hours and because I had five or six portfolios, I had spent 80 hours a week away from home. That is not taking into account the fact that you sit at home, studying, reading Cabinet documents, et cetera. So, the time you commit to being a politician is something you do not appreciate until you do it. The time you commit to being a minister in a government you do not really fully appreciate until you are in it. It is significant and it is important and it needs to be given credit. I know, having a Cabinet role, being able to have the experience of being a local member and just being a local member, and being on the backbench, and being a minister and being pressured by the backbench on certain issues, it actually forces greatest decision within Government and within the Cabinet process.

Extending the Parliament to 35 does not fix the issue with Cabinet necessarily. That is a separate discussion to have but the people that you have and the resources you have in government and in opposition to respond to that gives you more flexibility. Having only two or three people on the backbench to sit on all of these committees is not fair on that parliamentarian. It means that the committee system does not work to the extent that it should in terms of the rigorous contemplation of issues that it should allow, so this is a massive step forward.

I acknowledge and I support the motion in principle. Of course, the caveat is let us see what the legislation says. I congratulate -

Ms O'Connor - Let's keep it simple.

Mr O'BYRNE - Absolutely, let us not stuff this up. Premier, I acknowledge your leadership on this. Overwhelmingly, whilst there will be cat calls and you will have the obvious people having a crack, I believe this is the right decision for a Westminster Parliament to have the critical mass of parliamentarians to make it function and work in the best interest of the Tasmanian people.

I support the motion and I look forward to debating legislation. I congratulate the Premier for doing it in this way. There are a whole lot of other ways you could have announced this but the fact you have done it in this way is a credit to you. I acknowledge that, and I support it.


Ms HADDAD (Clark) - Mr Speaker, I will also make a very brief contribution. I was not expecting that time would allow but the way that the debate has gone allows me to make some brief observations of serving on that committee that occurred in the last parliament that has been mentioned by other members as well.

It was probably the most collaborative and refreshing experience that I have had so far as a member of parliament. The committee membership changed a little bit over the course of the committee. It was chaired the Leader of the Greens, Ms O'Connor. Anita Dow and I were the representatives from the Labor Party. The final make-up of the committee of the Liberal Party representatives were Mrs Rylah, Mrs Petrusma and Ms Hickey.

As others have said, it was a consensus report. It genuinely felt like we were hearing best practice, were hearing the evidence of what happened when the Chamber's size was reduced from 35 to 25, and hearing about the changes that had occurred since.

The committee heard evidence from leaders of all three parties. We had the former Liberal leader present evidence; a former Labor leader; and a former leader of the Greens. All of them acknowledged that reducing the size of parliament has had a detrimental impact to the functioning of the parliament. We heard the kind of things that have already been mentioned in this debate. The work of the committee system is entirely different now to how it was when the parliament's size was bigger. The work of Cabinet and ministers has been fundamentally altered, and the role of the backbench is fundamentally different with a smaller number of people in this Chamber as well.

Honestly, when some of the evidence was being presented, it felt like they were describing a much more pleasant time to work in a parliament. It sounded like there were more opportunities for committees to form to really scrutinise legislation in a way that meant that that legislation was the absolutely best it could be to serve the Tasmanian people.

What we have seen in this parliament and the one prior is quite often very complex legislation is presented on a Tuesday for debate on a Thursday, which simply does not give the opportunity to the opposition and crossbench members to really do our jobs to the best of our ability. The most significant example of that was 400 pages of legislation that was tabled in establishing TasCAT, which we supported - and we support the principle of TasCAT - but 400 pages of legislation. It was impossible to get across the detail of all of that in one day, effectively, which is what we had.

They described a time, maybe through rose coloured glasses - I know that there would have been real struggles in the larger parliament as well - but they certainly described a time where the committee structure served the Tasmanian people better than, I believe, it can serve the Tasmanian people now.

I acknowledge as well that the public perception of politicians is very low, particularly at the moment. People are losing faith in the way that parliaments work and the way that we, as parliamentarians, work. Often you hear people talking about 'snouts in the trough'. There was jubilation in 1998 that there were 10 less snouts in the trough and here we are talking about putting 10 more snouts in the trough. We know that is not how we do our jobs and the people who really care about the functioning of a parliament doing the best that it can for the Tasmanian people also understand that is not how we do our jobs.

As others have said, it is really refreshing and I pay tribute to the move that the Premier has made today. This side of the House was surprised by that announcement. It is a positive that an announcement has been made today that we will be considering legislation before the end of this year. Like others, I am very much looking forward to seeing the detail of the legislation, what the model might look like. The committee heard lots of different examples of what a 35-member House might look like.

I conclude with those brief comments and look forward to this issue continuing in the parliament.


Mrs PETRUSMA (Franklin - Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management) - Mr Speaker, I commend Ms O'Connor for the motion today and thank everyone for their contributions and acknowledge the Premier's commitment today.

Having been a member of the committee and I found it a great committee. You learn so much, hearing from previous members of parliament and, importantly, hearing about the difference that it will actually make to our constituents. I passionately believe that all of us in this Chamber want to do the best for the people we represent. I feel we are not giving the people of Tasmania the best representations for their issues because all of us are so short of time. If we had more people elected in our electorates we would be better able to represent the issues that are important to our constituents, and this parliament would be a better place and it will be better for Tasmania.

People forget that the complexity of issues are the same in Tasmania or could be even more complex than in other areas around the nation. Whether you are a minister or a member of parliament, you are expected to have the same breadth of knowledge and skills as in other areas, which have a far greater number of ministers. If we are to do the best by Tasmania on the national stage, we need to have greater capacity to represent Tasmania's interests on that stage. That came through strongly in the inquiry.

A committee system is essential. Having been in opposition and on different committees which made a significant difference, but also now in the parliament we represent, it is essential that we have a functioning parliament that is the best parliament for the people of Tasmania.

I congratulate Ms O'Connor and I thank everyone for their contribution. I look forward, like everyone else does, to the bill that will be tabled and debated later on this year.


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Well, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER - You are not speechless, surely?

Ms O'CONNOR - We are absolutely speechless, but I am going to get up and say a few brief words of thanks, anyway.

Debates like this are parliament at its best, where we all recognise what the right thing to do is and we are prepared to put aside the politics and do that right thing. Restoring the numbers in the House of Assembly, as so many speakers have said today, is doing the right thing by the Tasmanian people, the representation that we give them, good governance, the Cabinet of the future, to take some of the load off ministers, to strengthen the backbench and the committee system.

I sincerely thank the Premier for his courage and his leadership. It is the mark of a true parliamentarian. Thank you, Premier, for surprising us in the most delightful way. I would encourage you, when you bring that legislation forward, to keep it simple and not complicate things too much for the Tasmanian people or the Tasmanian Electoral Commission and only make sure we undo the damage that was done in 1998.

If we all stand together on this issue and take the politics out of it, then we can engage with our constituents about why this is the right thing to do by them.

Motion agreed to.