Four year terms and Queensland's empty Chamber

Ninety-four years ago, an Act of Parliament abolished the Upper House of the Queensland Parliament. Premier Edward Theodore and his predecessor Premier TJ Ryan had viewed the Legislative Council as obstructive to good government and set about a process to rid Queensland of the Upper House, allowing the government to proceed unhindered with its reform agenda.

Since 23rd March 1922, Queensland has retained a unique position of being the only Australian State with a single House of Parliament.

With the Queensland Parliament last week passing the Constitution (Fixed Term Parliament) Amendment Bill, we are now heading towards a referendum to increase Queensland parliamentary terms from three years to four years, with fixed dates for future State elections.

Many of the arguments put forward for this change cite the need for stability in the Queensland Parliament – stability for industry, stability for voters and stability for the government of the day.

There is no doubt Queensland would benefit from increased stability in its Parliament. In recent years Queensland has been on a political rollercoaster ride. From 2012 we saw the Newman LNP Government take Queensland on a ride of reform almost unparalleled in recent history. Following this year’s change of government we have looped the loop and see the Palaszczuk Labor Government systematically winding back and repealing many of the changes made by the former LNP Government.

Our hung Parliament balances only one by-election away from another possible change of government. Where will this rollercoaster take us if that occurs? Increased stability is certainly necessary.

Family First holds the belief that the common-sense answer to increasing stability in the Queensland Parliament is to reinstate the previously abolished Upper House. The Upper House should serve its true purpose, as it does in other States and in our Federal Parliament, as a House of Review.

Whilst most Queenslanders would look cynically at any call to increase the number of politicians in Queensland, the extra stability an Upper House would provide would have benefits for the entire State.

Major parties often view Upper Houses as obstructionist to their agenda. However an Upper House is critical to ensuring balanced implementation of legislation by any Parliament and government.

In the current Federal Parliament the Senate’s balance of power is held by independents and minor parties, including Family First. Major parties are often required to negotiate to pass their legislation through the Parliament. It helps to keep governments in check and to ensure they cannot necessarily ride roughshod over the opposition and cross-benchers, and expect to have legislation passed unchallenged. In short, it makes for better legislation and better government.

There are those who would argue that the Queensland Parliament’s robust committee system already provides sufficient review of legislation. However these committees inevitably have more Government than non-Government members, or a Government member as Chair with a casting vote. Almost without exception, Parliamentary legislative review committees have been able to use that Government majority to endorse the Government’s legislation. To expect Members of Parliament to put their party affiliation aside to participate in a completely bipartisan legislative review committee is a noble, but fanciful, notion.

Family First is leading the call for an independent panel to be established by the Queensland Parliament to set out a roadmap towards the reintroduction of Queensland’s Upper House. We will be seeking support from all Queensland political parties, independents and the Queensland voting public to take this important step towards better government for Queensland.

It is currently a little over six years until we mark the centenary of the abolishing of Queensland’s Upper House. To restore the balance and bring much needed stability to Queensland’s Parliament, we should be marking that centenary with the reintroduction of Queensland’s Upper House.