by Ian Walker
This weekend Queenslanders are set to make an important decision that will improve the quality of government they experience at a state level.
State governments have key responsibilities to create a free and fair society, improve services, encourage investment and job creation, boost confidence in public administration and deliver stability and growth for the business community – and to deliver all of these things in a manner that is consultative, inclusive and follows the well-established cabinet and parliamentary process.
The truth is that to genuinely achieve these aims though, the process of governing can take some time, and far longer than the average two years and nine months between current elections.
I know, as a former minister, that for even the most diligent person there is time spent getting used to the job, then actually getting something done, before natural caution sets in as an election approaches, and activity slows.
Shadow Attorney-General Ian Walker. Photo: Glenn Hunt
A three-year term can, in fact, mean only half that time turns into effective government. And with flexible terms, and premiers being able to go to the people when it best suits them, the average term of governments in Queensland has been well less than three years.
That is why all Australian governments, other than the Commonwealth and Queensland, have moved away from three-year parliamentary terms. Those with fixed terms naturally have exceptions to allow earlier election where governments cannot gain support in the Parliament – or lose it once gained.
With this background, in early 2015 the LNP put forward a proposal to encourage discussion about fixed four-year parliamentary terms. We then introduced legislation into Parliament to begin the process of change. At the same time the government asked the Parliament to look at the issue.
A bipartisan approach started to develop. It is, after all, an issue that has been around and debated for the best part of the past 25 years. In this closely balanced Parliament the idea formed that it could be possible to reach a common mind and take the matter to a referendum – for all Queenslanders to have a say.
A bipartisan parliamentary committee began looking at the issue and heard from many with an interest in the issue. A common theme emerged, summed up by former Queensland Labor government Speaker John Mickel, who said, “Four-year terms enable time for the proper identification of issues, effective research and analysis, the generation of policy proposals, effective consultation, and the evaluation of policy responses and above all effective implementation of those policies.”
When we introduced our legislation into Parliament in September, we said there were three key advantages that underlined why Queensland should move to adopt fixed four-year parliamentary terms.
First, it provides for better government and better public policy making because decisions can be made in the interest of outcomes and better services for Queenslanders, rather than short-term political gain or what may be in the news that day or that week.
Second, it removes constant speculation from the political process and provides fairness to all political parties, rather than what is in the interests of the government of the day.
And third, it provides confidence and certainty in government – from the business community which drives investment, economic confidence and job creation and also from the public, in terms of administration.
Don’t just take my word for that.
Ros McLennan, secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions, said this in support of fixed, four-year terms:
“Queensland workers want more government and less politics. The stability of fixed terms promotes sound policy development, not political opportunism that gives unfair advantage to the government of the day. Queensland workers want security of working rights, jobs and a plan for the future – not uncertainty, distractions, waste or snap polls.”
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said in a submission to the committee that: “CCIQ has long held the view that state elections cause serious disruption to the economy, with both consumers and business putting on hold major decisions relating to purchases, capital expenditure and employment levels.”
Accordingly in our view longer parliamentary terms have the potential to enhance business confidence and business investment, by eliminating uncertainties created by frequent elections and subsequent shifts in government policy or attitudes to towards certain projects.”
So it’s clear there is broad community and cross-party support for four-year fixed terms – something which the measure did not have when a referendum on four-year terms (unfixed) narrowly lost in 1991.
Politicians can argue about whether or not they think this is a worthy proposal, but the power to decide the final outcome is in the hands of the people. As it should be.
Please, in this final week before the March 19 referendum, consider whether you want to raise the bar on state politics and play your part in delivering better government for all Queenslanders.
I hope you’ll vote “yes”.
Ian Walker is the Shadow Attorney General and opposition spokesman for Justice, Industrial Relations and Arts.