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Upper house, not four year terms, would have saved Newman government

By Seath Holswich - posted Thursday, 11 February 2016


The Newman Government would not have lost the 2015 election if Queensland's Parliament had an Upper House.

The Newman Government, by general consensus of most commentators, had an air of arrogance about it. The then-Labor opposition often trumpeted the slightly deceptive mantra that the Newman Government was using its 'massive majority' to railroad legislation through the Parliament. The truth is that a Government only needs a majority of one in the Queensland Parliament to have almost untouchable power for its three year tenure.

A fourth year probably wouldn't have saved the Newman Government. Unfortunate mistakes were made, decisions and policies were often poorly explained, unnecessary fights were picked – even in the year leading into the election.

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But an Upper House could easily have saved the Newman Government.

In recent years we have seen the crossbench of the Federal Senate holding the balance of power. The major parties often view this as obstructionist to their agenda. Federal Coalition Minister Christopher Pyne went so far as to say earlier this year that voters should choose Labor over independents or minor parties.

However it is exactly this Upper House composition that could have saved the Newman Government. When the government does not hold the balance of power in an Upper House it is forced to negotiate. Rough edges are smoothed, compromises are made and otherwise controversial and unpalatable legislation can be passed in a form that may even end up more effective than the original bill.

There were many times the Newman Government declared legislation urgent and used its majority to bypass the Parliamentary Committee process. This could not have happened if there had been an Upper House. There were many times the Newman Government passed legislation that needed the rough edges taken off it before it was passed – anti-bikie/VLAD legislation being the most well-known example. Negotiating its passage through an Upper House may have achieved this, without weakening its effectiveness.

In short, an Upper House would have smoothed the rough edges of legislation, required a level of negotiation, compromise and patience that simply weren't necessary during their term and would have resulted in a more effective, and probably popular, Newman Government.

In a little over a month Queenslanders will go to the ballot box to decide whether our State Parliamentarians should be granted four year fixed terms. Having a debate and vote on four year terms before there has been a debate on restoring Queensland's Upper House is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse.

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Queensland's unicameral Parliament gives virtually unchecked power to Queensland's Government. It would be unwise to give that power to either major party for an extra year at a time. Our Government needs the checks and balances only an Upper House can give.

In debating the bill for four-year terms, Premier Palaszczuk said "the introduction of fixed four-year terms will bring Queensland into line with the majority of other Australian jurisdictions."

The challenge for Premier Palaszczuk, if she is truly committed to ensuring Queensland is in line with the rest of Australia, is to commit to the reintroduction of the Upper House. Is our Premier up for the challenge of ending Queensland's lone stand as the only State without this level of accountability for their government?

It is my view, and Family First Queensland's view, that reinstating Queensland's Upper House will bring Queensland into line with the accountability seen in all other Australian states.

This needs to be the first step before we consider moving to four year terms.

I encourage Queensland voters on March 19 to vote no to four year terms, whilst Queensland remains without an Upper House. Once our Upper House is restored, then and only then, should we consider four year terms.

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About the Author

Seath Holswich was the State Member for Pine Rivers from 2012-15 and Assistant Minister for Natural Resources and Mines from 2014-15. He is currently an Independent Candidate for the State Electorate of Pine Rivers (D'Aguilar under the proposed redistribution) for the next State Election.

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