The Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly was the main elected representative body of the Australian Capital Territory between 1975 and 1986, when preparations began to be made for the granting of self-government to the Territory. It served a largely advisory role, with most powers over the Territory still lying in the hands of the relevant federal minister through the life of the Assembly.
Three years after the seat of government was established at Canberra and after the opening of the first Parliament House in 1927, an appointed Advisory Council was established to administer the capital. In 1974 this was replaced by a fully elected Legislative Assembly, advising the Department of the Capital Territory. In 1979 this became a House of Assembly of 18 elected members, which was dissolved in 1986. In 1978 a referendum on self-government was defeated, with 68 per cent of voters recording a No vote. The federal Labor government of Prime Minister Bob Hawke set up a Self-Government Task Force in 1986 to report on the government of the ACT.
The assembly was first created in 1975 by the Whitlam government, as a response to frequent criticism about the lack of representation for the citizens of the territory. Whitlam had appointed the local federal MP, Kep Enderby, as Minister for the ACT, and Enderby sought to create a new representative body along the lines of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, which had been created in 1974. Elections were held for the first Legislative Assembly that year, with representatives of the Australian Labor Party, Liberal Party of Australia, Australia Party, and several independents taking seats in the Assembly. Unlike its Northern Territory counterpart, it was not made self-governing in 1977.
The new Assembly began sitting in the then-Civic Offices, later renovated to become the current Legislative Assembly Building. An independent MLA, Jim Pead, took office as the first President (the equivalent of the Speaker) of the new body. Gordon Walsh became the first leader of the Labor caucus, with Dr Peter Hughes leading the Liberal caucus. Both were replaced in 1977; Walsh joined the nascent Australian Democrats, and was replaced as leader by Peter Vallee, Hughes quit the Liberal Party and was replaced as leader by Jim Leedman. Ivor Vivian became the leader of the Australia Party, before being replaced by Walsh in 1977. The first Assembly saw two prominent members on its benches: future federal ministers Ros Kelly and Susan Ryan. Ryan resigned during the first term, successfully seeking a seat in the Senate.
The second election for the Assembly was held in 1979, and saw a change in name from the Legislative Assembly to the House of Assembly. The election saw the addition of a fourth party, with the conservative Family Team led by Bev Cains winning a seat. It also saw the election of future self-government ministers Greg Cornwell and Paul Whalan. A third election was held in 1982, which saw the introduction of a more partisan system. The Liberals held a majority in the Assembly, with Leedman becoming Leader of the House, and new Labor leader Ken Doyle becoming the minority leader. He was to be short-lived as leader, with Maurene Horder succeeding him after only two years.
The last Assembly also saw the creation of an office of Speaker, filled by independent MHA Harold Hird. The final election also saw the election of future Liberal Chief Minister Trevor Kaine. It was allowed to expire in 1986 due to plans to introduce full self-government for the territory. After some years of discussions, the House of Assembly was replaced with the current Legislative Assembly in 1989, with new Labor leader Rosemary Follett becoming the first Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory.
Voting was not compulsory for the House of Assembly, and its influence was limited. Many of its prominent figures retired rather than contest the elections for the new Legislative Assembly in 1989; several others, including outgoing Speaker Harold Hird and Family Team leader Bev Cains were soundly defeated. Three MHAs, however—Greg Cornwell, Trevor Kaine, and Paul Whalan—went on to be elected to the new parliament, and later served in major roles.
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