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Keeping tabs on government in Queensland

By Stuart Copeland - posted Tuesday, 17 February 2009

We are all used to hearing, and saying, Queensland is different. When we hear it from outsiders it is often said in an outdated condescending tone. When Queenslanders say it, it is with a sense of pride.

There are a lot of things that make Queensland different. They are many and varied, and add to the Queensland experience. For decades people have recognised that, whatever those factors are, they make Queensland a unique and attractive place to live. As a result migrants have been flooding into our State from all the States of Australia, and from around the world.

One thing that definitely makes Queensland unique in Australia is our unicameral Parliament. After the Legislative Council was abolished by the Theodore Labor government in 1921, it has left Queensland as the only Australian jurisdiction with no Upper House. While the issue of reintroducing the Upper House is hotly debated (even within households as is the case with my wife and I) it is unlikely to ever happen as neither the Labor Party nor the LNP advocate for it. It is also unlikely that when put to a referendum the voting public would vote for more politicians.


While supporters of the current system argue that it allows an elected government to govern, and a bad government to be thrown out at the next election, it provides no genuine process of review. With this absence of any effective system of review, four-year terms should not be introduced into Queensland with its unicameral parliament. Electors should be provided with a regular franchise so that a bad government can be replaced.

The New South Wales experience of four-year terms, even with an upper house - a House of Review - is instructive. The current Rees Labor Government, beset with problems and scandals, will not face the electorate until 2011, leaving NSW facing turmoil for another two years.

Since the 2001 Queensland election when the Beattie Labor government was re-elected with 66 of the 89 seats in the Parliament, there have been huge Labor majorities, a very small Opposition, and no process of review. The size of the Parliamentary majority in Queensland is not healthy. It has in the past proven to be unhealthy whichever side of politics has been in power, and is producing bad and arrogant government.

A factor that compounds the lack of scrutiny on the government is the number of MPs who sit in Executive government. Eighteen Ministers, and 11 Parliamentary Secretaries, making up one third of the 89 Members of the Legislative Assembly, are in the Executive. The concept of the Separation of Powers or independence between the Parliament, the Judiciary, and Executive government is severely tested by the current Labor Government. The Executive Government in Queensland at best pays lip service to the Parliament, and at worst completely ignores it.

One way of delivering the desperately needed reform of the Queensland Parliament is to genuinely reform the Parliamentary Committee system. Parliamentary Committees in Queensland have had a chequered past and today work with varying degrees of success within a limited framework. There is a range of committees including Standing and Select Committees, and Estimates Committees which supposedly review the budget in detail.

All of the committees consist of seven MP’s; four government and three non-government; giving the government control of them. The Chair also has a casting vote. Former Premier Beattie increased committee membership from six to seven in 2001 to provide his huge backbench with jobs and additional pay. Like his decision to dramatically increase the number Parliamentary Secretaries, it was made to court favour within the Labor Caucus rather than to improve the operation of Parliament.


The committees have very limited and specific jurisdiction, have little ability to call and question witnesses, and are controlled by government members so do not usually deliver reports critical of the government or investigate contentious issues.

The major exception has been where the government has wanted a difficult issue investigated by a committee to insulate itself from the ramifications of making a decision, or to give it the semblance of a bipartisan recommendation. In these cases it has referred specific matters to a Select Committee. Ironically, having been established for purely political motives, it is these committees that have probably produced the best results. MPs have approached these issues with diligence and bipartisanship, and generally the results have been very thoughtful and balanced.

The recent examples, such as the Review of Organ and Tissue Donation Procedures Select Committee, and the Investigation into Altruistic Surrogacy Committee have produced worthy outcomes with committee members genuinely working to achieve a positive result.

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About the Author

Stuart Copeland MP is the Member for Cunningham, which is located in south-east Queensland incorporating the southern suburbs of Toowoomba and inner southern Darling Downs.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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