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Avoiding Dark Days in the Sunshine State - email sent 8/12/13

Paul Williams
Griffith University

Re: Sunshine State headed for darker days without Upper House, Sunday Mail, 8/12/13

Your article raised questions about whether Queensland should re-establish an upper house of Parliament (ie a Legislative Council) to provide more scope for scrutiny of government.

My interpretation of your article: Queenslanders won’t vote for more politicians – but Oppositions always want to restore a Legislative Council to provide greater scrutiny of governments. However when they gain government they change their minds. There may be a case for re-establishing such a Council given Queensland’s history of abuses of political power and current concerns about slipping contentious legislation (eg that related to criminal bikie gangs) through Parliament and then sacking the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee for asking questions about what was going on. A Legislative Council capable of effective oversight might be created by: (a) dividing the current number of state politicians between two houses; and (b) adopting a different electoral process (eg one like the current federal Senate) to ensure that the Legislative Council was not merely a copy of the Legislative Assembly.

There is no doubt about the need for more effective and accountable government in Queensland. However this can’t be achieved by simple institutional changes (eg re-creating a Legislative Council). Some reasons for suggesting this are outlined in The Upper House Solution: A Commentary (2006). The latter suggested that better support to the political system as a whole (ie by capable and up-to-date civil institutions and a professional public service) is needed before any changes to the institutions of Parliament would be likely to make a significant difference.

The inadequacy of expecting that more effective and accountable government will result from simply creating new institutions was demonstrated by the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry in the late 1980s into police corruption and political abuses of power (Journey Towards a More Effective 'Fitzgerald Inquiry', 2009). Poorly advised but ruthlessly implementation of institutional changes recommended by the Fitzgerald inquiry (or perceived politically as likely to be beneficial) resulted in:

The present government’s ‘gung ho’ approach to dealing with the very real problems associated with criminal bikie gangs risks undermining the effectiveness of Queensland’s institutions (eg of the judiciary, the CMC and the Parliament). This exactly parallels the way the Bjelke Peterson Government’s ‘gung ho’ methods of government created a foothold for official corruption and the Goss Government’s ‘gung ho’ approach to ‘reform’: (a) undermined effective government – and led to crisis-prone administration and budget blowouts in the longer term; and (b) frustrated the Fitzgerald Inquiries’ ambitions about containing official corruption .

There is a need for: (a) deeper consideration of what is required for effective government; and (b) building on what works rather than making institutional changes without being fully aware of their consequences. Some undoubtedly inadequate speculations about what might be required are in Reversing Queensland's Institutional Decay (2013). Merely creating a Legislative Council to provide additional oversight of a struggling Government by a poorly informed Opposition cannot be sufficient.

I would be interested in your response to my speculations.

John Craig