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No opposition leaves Beattie in peril

By Phil Dickie - posted Thursday, 1 March 2001

If Peter Beattie thinks governing with a huge majority is going to be as much a cakewalk as getting them all elected, he probably has another think coming.

Just on the law of averages there are going to be one or two newcomers who upset the ship of state by forgetting to take their medication, conflicting their interests or running off with their secretaries. Or, possibly, all of the above.

Nearly all, if they have retained some shreds of idealism through the pre-selection process, will come to a point where they are faced with the choice of representing the interests of their electors on a burning issue or representing the interests of ALP powerbrokers. Most will find a way of arguing that the ALP powerbrokers are representing, in some odd way, the interests of their electors.


But all of them may not be able to manage the necessary mental accommodations all of the time. There is a distinct possibility that the parliament will end this term with more independents than it started with.

Beattie's problem, and it is a problem, is that he will face almost no institutionalised opposition. The coalition will not have enough members to even mark all the ministers in any adequate sense. Members with doubtful qualifications to be backbenchers will be opposition frontbenchers. They won't be facing off Labor's best and brightest, or at least not for a while, but there will be a large difference in calibre between most ministers and their shadows for a long time yet

Ministers, far too many of whom have a regrettable tendency to employ only people who say "Yes minister" instead of "That's daft, minister", will as a consequence make daft decisions that are only recognised as daft when they are well and truly implemented.

The coalition has also lost many of its best and brightest, a lot of its institutional memory and much of its credibility. It wasn't providing much in the way of opposition before the election so realistically, we should expect even less now. If that is possible.

Queensland's problem is that, of all the sizeable States, it has the least durable democratic institutions. It has no upper house and is never likely to get one. It has the most rule-bound, least mature, and least troublesome to government committee system.

In the Senate, estimates hearings can go on for days and range far and wide over nearly anything. In Queensland, where just getting estimates committees was hailed a democratic triumph, the hearings are run to a stopwatch and the questions are rationed. Very severely rationed.


Parliament doesn't generally question during question time, and when it does, it often doesn't get answers. Legislation is not debated or negotiated through the Legislative Assembly in any meaningful sense of either term. Consequently, Queensland's parliament is one which has a record of passing sloppily drafted bills through to the keeper.

And there are other traditions, in which government reserves the rights to make substantive amendments to legislation in quite unrelated other legislation, to proclaim legislation pretty much when it sees fit and sometimes not at all, and to draft legislation that gives government very broad authority to get itself into trouble without any further reference to Parliament. It is not called the sausage machine for nothing and not all the sausages come out well-formed.

The Speaker is not under any constitutional obligation to be a government lackey and party hack but they nearly all behave as though they are. This is probably because Speakers who give a hint that they might be considering their constitutional abilities to insist on answers to questions, make procedural rulings in favour of the opposition and so on are usually taken out the back and shot.

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This is article was first published in The Brisbane Line, journal of The Brisbane Institute, on February 21.

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About the Author

Phil Dickie is editor of The Brisbane Line, Newsletter of The Brisbane Institute. His investigative journalism in the 1980s led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland.

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