Today the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee debates a relatively minor amendment to the second-class status of citizens of the ACT and Northern Territory, both of whom can have their valid laws overridden on the whim of federal politicians.

The Committee is holding hearings into the Greens’ Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010, which makes the overriding of territory laws a matter for the federal parliament, rather than a federal minister. Politicians from both territories will be fronting up to give evidence.

Bear in mind both territories are significantly underrepresented in federal parliament compared to the states; the ACT and the NT combined have more people than Tasmania, but Tasmanians send more than twice as many politicians to Canberra (and yes, cutting the number of senators from 12 to two per state mightn’t be a bad idea).

What do Australians think of this constitutionally-validated form of discrimination? Asked by Essential Research last week if they “agree or disagree that the ACT and Northern Territory should have the same rights as the state to pass legislation without being overruled by a federal minister”, 74% of voters agreed and only 9% of voters disagreed. There was surprising uniformity across voting intentions: 73% of Liberals agreed, 74% of Greens, and — right-wing factional chieftains take note — 80% of Labor voters.

It seems while some reactionaries inside the parliament and out, and the trolls at The Australian, think imposing a lower form of citizenship on half a million Australians is fair and proper, voters disagree with a vehemence unusual for opinion polls.

Peter Fray

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