Bartlett's Blog

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. This blog started in 2004 and reflects his own views, independent of any political party or organisation.

Time to restore an Upper House in Qld’s Parliament

Calls to bring back the Upper House – or Legislative Council – in Queensland’s Parliament appear with fairly regular frequency. Like every other state Upper House at the time, when Queensland’s Legislative Council voted to abolish itself back in 1921, all its members were appointed rather than elected – something which certainly needed addressing. However, every other state (eventually) dealt with this through the obvious mechanism of requiring members of the Upper House to be directly elected.

The absence of any form of check and balance over the Queensland government of the day – whether Labor or Coalition – has led to an entrenched anti-democratic culture in Queensland politics, with regular abuses of power by either side. An Upper House wouldn’t fix everything by any means, but it is amazing how quickly the attitude of a government changes when they need to negotiate with other people to get legislation passed. I saw this in reverse when I was in the Senate.

The vast majority of the time – due to its far more representative system of multi-member electorates elected via a proportional representation – no one party controls the Senate, and at least some degree of negotiation and transparency is required. I had the misfortune of being in the Senate when John Howard’s Coalition government managed the rare feat of winning control of the Senate in their own right.

Almost overnight, the level of consultation dropped to zero, and the interest in hearing anyone else’s point of view vanished along with it. It didn’t mean everyone in the Coalition immediately starting behaving in a more obnoxious. unfriendly manner, but it did mean there was less communication in general – for the fairly obvious pragmatic reason that they didn’t need to bother.

Of course, having control of the Senate also led directly to John Howard over-reaching and introducing his draconian, extreme Workchoices laws. Contrary to common opinion, this did not mean a more deregulated workplace. It actually introduced a whole lot more regulation, but it was all aimed at screwing over unions (and any business who decided they wanted to negotiate with them in a reasonable manner). Many of the problems with Workchoices could have been easily foreseen, but with no need to pay attention to alternative views in the Senate, these deeply flawed laws were rushed through with little scrutiny.

Of course, in Queensland where there is no Senate, or upper House, to scrutinise anything, governments over-reach with depressing regularity; not just with over the top legislation – such as their current attempt to distort the electoral law to suit the Coalition particularly and major parties in general – but also with greater politicisation of the public service, dubious spending decisions, and more.

A column in the Courier-Mail by Des Houghton – normally an arch-conservative flag waver for the LNP government – pointed to another recent proposal by Brisbane barrister Anthony Morris to bring back an Upper House – in this case to be called a Review Chamber. The column points to the many problems Queensland has endured over many decades with autocratic governments, much of which could at least be constrained with a built review mechanism.

Even though the Upper House was abolished just by an Act of Parliament, to bring one back requires a referendum. It’s often said that people will never vote for more politicians, but I think in this instance – with enough public support by people across the political spectrum – a referendum to put some checks and balances on our government would have a good chance of passing.

You can read the column by Des Houghton here –

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/the-political-abuses-of-labor-leaders-edward-red-ted-theodore-william-forgansmith-and-ned-hanlon-beat-those-of-joh-bjelkepetersen/story-fnihsr9v-1226874983608

Advertisement

6 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. JKUU

    “(Political) Power is best when it’s most widely distributed.” Among other things, this aphorism means that a bicameral legislature with a strong upper house is required. Under so-called responsible government, power is concentrated in the lower house as the center of the executive branch of government. An independent legislative chamber in the upper house holds this power accountable.

    Too long has Queensland been the Nebraska of Australia.

  2. While an upper house would be the best way to restore checks and balances are there other ways to improve the existing system? Changes to parliamentary procedure or strengthening of parliamentary committees could also be ways of introducing checks and balances and curbing the power of the executive.

  3. Rather than restoring the Legislative Council, as in NSW, I suggest the adoption of a voting system, such as MMP, as in NZ, may well be a better option.

    My sense of things is that once upper houses are abolished, they are not easily restored. I would be very much in favour, given recent history, of abolishing the Legislative Council in NSW,while seeking to avoid the problems of Queensland.

  4. Lorikeet

    Yes, it would be great to have an Upper House in the Queensland parliament, as something needs to be done about the undemocratic abuses of the Newman government.

    Only truly rusted-on Coalition supporters and those with little understanding of the Constitution think it is okay to clobber workers and bring in un-nuanced laws which are applied unequally.

    Only a few days ago, I was speaking with an officer of the AFP. She said she wants our children and adults to be well disciplined, but she doesn’t want any Queensland Police officers to take a bullet for Newman. I don’t know anyone who wants any of our young people joining Queensland Police with this despotic Premier on the seat of power. She wants “one punch” laws to be nuanced. I found we were in agreement on most things.

    Interestingly, I have also spoken with a member of a very large bikie gang who seems to think Campbell Newman’s ideas on law and order are okay.

    In one of the other Australian states, I’m sure there are moves afoot to remove the upper house. I saw something that suggested this on the news last week.

    It is my belief that the government will continue to manipulate the people in the direction of removing all upper houses of review, along with the state governments, leaving only powerless mini states (amalgamated councils) similar to those seen in former USSR communist bloc nations. A quick look at a map of Lithuania will show what I mean.

    I am also concerned that the ALP is now saying it will accept members who do not belong to unions. However this would certainly be in keeping with their lack of interest in workers’ rights.

  5. As a Senator, Andrew, you were a great asset to Australia. Please keep up your blog. Upper houses do seem to give voters a better chance of being heard and heeded. Because voters pay almost no attention to who they elect to a lower house, they tend to be ignored by government unless they are proactive. Reform of parliament is important, but reform by the electorate is also needed. Until residents take more interest in national and state affairs, corruption, unfairness and neglect will prevail as in the instances mentioned above. We invite everyone to join our Residents Roundtables to make broadly supported suggestions to MPs. Residents/voters working with MPs produce quite good results.Voterland is part of the FairGO / Votergrams Group that saw how willingly Andrew assisted Voters from all over Australia.

  6. paul walter

    Agree with all of various above..either a lower house voting system that reflects diversity or a bicameral unit that also breaks the monopoly.

    Our chance and Buckleys.

Reply to “Time to restore an Upper House in Qld’s Parliament”

Mini Posts

  • Rhetoric vs reality

    I’ve had a break from writing for a variety of reasons, but the reckless approach the new Queensland government is taking to their spending decisions – and the straightout nonsensicality of some of their claims – roused me enough to pen a piece for New Matilda. Time will tell whether the Newman government will start trying to ensure their statements have some connection with reality – I suggest the way they respond next year to the findings of the inquiry into child safety which they’ve established will be a significant test.

    (2)
  • End of LP the end of a blogging era

    Back in October, I wrote here about the decline or re-defining of blogs, at least in the Australian political arena.  The relatively few posts I’ve done on this blog since then shows how much less useful I find it to do my own blog than I used to, and as I mentioned back then, a big reason why I don’t read many of the blogs I used to is because the valuable links to many interesting stories, ideas and pieces of information can be found more easily through Twitter or Facebook, sometimes with comment threads which are also at least as good. The recent announcement by the Larvatus Prodeo blog that they are ceasing to operate is quite a significant one.

    More... (7)
  • A final comment on Labor's leadership laments

    Fundamentally, I don’t greatly care about the outcome of Labor’s leadership travails. As my previous post indicates, the bigger issue is that the ALP is being fundamentally damaged by the toxicity of this brawl, and the fact that the brawl is happening in this way is a sign of some much greater problems within Labor. Whatever the immediate outcome, I think those problems are likely to continue.  The outcome of the leadership contest (including the size of what will surely be a Gillard victory) will shape how those problems play out, but they will still be there. Not surprisingly, I see this as presenting an opportunity for the Greens to build some support, but more importantly it presets extra responsibility and obligation for the Greens to be a stronger counter to what is a seriously reactionary Coalition. But seeing we’re all pundits now, and despite having little inside knowledge, my prediction is that there will be no ‘third candidate’ in tomorrow’s leadership ballot.  Julia Gillard will win comfortably. The instability will not disappear. It’s quite possible there will be another leadership ballot before the election but Kevin Rudd will not become leader then either. No matter how good Kevin Rudd looks in the polls, that polling lead would disappear very quickly if he was back in the PM’s job.

    (29)
  • A long time between hits

    In amongst all the politics and policy stuff, I try to make time to do some things that are completely disconnected from that*.  One thing I’ve found myself doing recently is doing a bit of practicing with a band, which has led to me doing a live performance for the first time in a long time.  Readers of this blog with a very long memory for minor matters may recall that I played keyboards in a couple of mini-performances with a band as part of promoting the Rock Against Howard compilation CD prior to the 2004 election.  However, drumming is what I’m better at – although I’m still a long way short of being able to say I’m good at it – which is what I am doing in the band I’m currently doing stuff with.  They’re doing their first full live Brisbane show tonight – which I think will be the first time since 1988 I’ve played drums in a live show.  It’s all nice and low-key, and for peoples’ enjoyment rather with an eye to making money out of it, so will make a nice change. *Actually, I don’t think anything is completely disconnected from politics. By coincidence, today also happens to be National SLAM Day – Save Live Australian Music.  As their website shows,

    More... (0)
  • The Ups & Downs of Ups & Downs - interview with Greg Atkinson

    I’ve mentioned before my liking for the 80s Brisbane band Ups and Downs. I got a chance to interview their lead singer Greg Atkinson on 4ZzZ FM a few weeks ago. They’ve released a compilation CD of 20 of their best tunes and played a gig in Brisbane earlier this month to promote and celebrate it. It was a fairly long interview, but I found it very interesting to hear the views of someone who has been active in the independent sphere of the music industry for so long about what has changed and what is the same. You can listen to the interview at this link.

    (0)
  • Speeches to refugee rally + SIEV-X exhibition

    A local activist helpfully recorded speeches given by myself and by Julian Burnside at a refugee rights rally held in Brisbane last Saturday.  You can listen to them here and here. The rally was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X.  353 refugees drowned when that refugee boat sank on the way to Australia on 19 October 2001.  There is a beautiful exhibition at The Studio on the ground level at the State Library of Qld this week, commemorating that anniversary. It finishes this weekend – I strongly recommend you try to get along for a look if you have a chance. The Library also has a screening of the documentary Hope on Friday October 28 – this film tell the story of Amal Basry, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.

    (0)
  • Stuff from my 4ZZZ shift this week

    Every Monday morning I do a shift on radio 4ZzZ FM102.1 – Brisbane’s longest serving community radio station (36 years old this year). And almost every week I talk with social media expert and lawyer Peter Black about some current political and other issues. You can listen to our talk this week by clicking on this link (it goes for over 30 minutes and has the occasional sweary word, so probably best just for dedicated fans). You can see the songlist I played this week – as usual featuring a sizable number of local artists – at this link, which in most cases also contains further links to other videos, information or photos of the artists.

    (3)