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The pros and cons of a Queensland senate

By Rodney Crisp - posted Thursday, 20 August 2009

If the members of Parliament are truly representative of our people there is no reason to be surprised that some of them turn out to be crooks. That is the way it is and there is no way you can change it. You just have to catch them if you can and weed them out. But whatever you do, others will step up to take their place.

Admittedly, the percentage of dishonest people in politics is arguably greater than the percentage of dishonest people among the general public they represent. However, that does not necessarily mean that they are so stupid as to be willing to risk their careers and reputations for huge capital gains. The average politician may well be more dishonest than the average citizen, but he is also likely to be more intelligent, otherwise he would not be in the position he is with all the power and prestige that goes with it. Simply being dishonest is not sufficient to qualify as a corrupt politician. You also have to be stupid.

Some people think re-instating the Senate that was abolished in 1922, would fix the problem. They point to the five other states and say there is less corruption and greater accountability in the governments of those states than in Queensland. That may be so but they forget to mention the three Australian Territories (ACT, Northern Territory and Norfolk Island) which also have a unicameral legislature like that of Queensland and whose criminal records are at least as good as, if not better than, those of the five states with bicameral legislatures.


It is difficult to weigh the pros and cons of the re-instatement of the Senate. Nobody seems to have ventured even a rough estimate of the percentage by which corruption would be reduced if the Senate were re-introduced, nor the percentage by which accountability would be increased. The implication they would have us accept is simply that both would be significant. That unfortunately is not a number.

On the other hand, it should not be too difficult to measure the annual cost of a Senate: probably in the region of $75 million a year (on the basis of Paul Raffaele’s estimates published in The Readers’ Digest of August 1999 under the provocative title, “Politicians’ Outrageous Perks”, which you will find here). Seventy-five million dollars a year - that is quite a number.

There are, nevertheless, a few good reasons to hope that the re-introduction of an Upper House, the Senate, might possibly procure some advantages. In this vein, Senator Harry Evans, who recently retired after 40 years of good and loyal service, made some interesting reflections on the workings and evolution of Parliament that are worth considering (cf. his retirement speech pronounced in Parliament House, Canberra on 24 July which you will find here).

Historically, of course, it has to be acknowledged that the first Senates were created in the ancient Greek city-states such as Athens not just to participate in the elaboration of laws but also, quite specifically, in order to keep “tyrants” in check. They did so by “ostracising” them, banning them from the city. The later Roman experience, however, was less probative of any real efficiency. Members inherited their titles and privileges from ancient noble families, much in the same manner as in the British House of Lords. Unfortunately, they inevitably ended up losing all credibility by submitting themselves to the Emperor on whom they depended for their positions and support. The Romans soon found themselves back at square one with their problem but with the additional charge of an extra, privileged layer of government to support and maintain.

As a number of political commentators have already pointed out, unlike the ancient Greeks or Romans, we Queenslanders have a fair propensity for inertia when it comes to political (especially, electoral) change or innovation. We like to see ourselves as being fairly pragmatic in our general approach to life, not particularly inclined to tolerate any nonsense. With our feet firmly planted on the ground, we rarely allow our minds to wander among the stars. We do, however, pride ourselves on having a fairly good sense of humour.

It is a well known fact that political polls tend to be considered by some of our compatriots as an occasion for a good lark. We should, nevertheless, not dismiss too quickly the Galaxy poll published in The Courier-Mail in July 2009 indicating that two-thirds of Queenslanders think they are being over-governed. And more than half of those think the state should be first to go, followed by local councils and, finally, Canberra.


The state has not yet gone but it may not be the most opportune moment to think about increasing it by the addition of an extra layer of government. As for local councils, it would seem that a lot of people have not yet realised it but they have, in fact, already gone. There are no local councils in Queensland anymore. They have been replaced by regional councils.

If, for the sake of the exercise, we agree to put our natural scepticism temporarily in our pockets (given that good clowns are no fools) and take a serious look at that poll, it becomes fairly obvious that nearly 40 per cent of our compatriots consider that the state government is not giving satisfaction for one reason or another. They say they want a reduction, limitation or transfer of state government activities in favour of either regional government, or, preferably, in favour of Federal government. That is an indication which should not be simply laughed at, even if it is funny. It certainly does not plead in favour of the re-instatement of the Senate.

Furthermore, it is also possible to deduce from the results of the poll that our fellow Queenslanders would probably not be inconsolably melancholic or nostalgic if the resident representative of Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, Her Excellency the State Governor, also graciously conceded an historic retreat. Indeed, while a large majority of our compatriots are known to hold both Her Majesty and Her Excellency in great respect, very few of them have actually had the privilege of participating in an afternoon tea party at Government House or witnessing a prestigious rubber stamping ceremony of Parliamentary bills. For that reason, the majority of Queenslanders would, in all likelihood, wish to retain the present name of the state, in fond memory of our historic allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. In the hearts and minds of her devoted subjects, the Sunshine State will, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, always remain: “The Land of the Queen”.

The closure of Government House and its transformation into a museum would have the additional and, no doubt, significant, advantage for the Queensland taxpayer of converting an important financial cost centre into a profit centre. It would also place Queensland in an excellent position and in ship-shape condition, to weather the storm that the conversion of the nation from a constitutional monarchy to an independent republic would inevitably provoke, if, indeed, that were the course our sovereign people decided we should take.

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About the Author

Rodney Crisp is an international insurance and risk management consultant based in Paris. He was born in Cairns and grew up in Dalby on the Darling Downs where his family has been established for over a century and which he still considers as home. He continues to play an active role in daily life on the Darling Downs via internet. Rodney can be emailed at

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