Goss could be historic reformer

by Chris Griffith
Published 15 November 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


It really was a frenetic week in State Parliament.

On Wednesday, the Government introduced nine Bills which, added to the Budget and nine others from last week, meant by mid-week there were 19 Bills to debate.

The Government also tabled 65 annual reports. No one I have spoken to has claimed to have wrapped their mind around all 65, which included key reports from EARC, the CJC, the Police Service, the Justice Department, the Corrective Services Commission, and the Auditor-General.

Nevertheless information overload is still a novel affliction in Queensland political life.

There was, too, some fiery questions in the House that dealt with issues such as Peter Laurance's credentials as Head of the Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation following a profile of him by The 7.30 Report.

Premier Goss responded in Parliament saying he had no knowledge of Laurance's private and commercial dealings, nor their associated appointments.

Yet the Queensland Government should know the business backgrounds of those with considerable financial influence. After all, the Victorian Government's lack of knowledge of the activities of influential business figures contributed to the Tricontinental debacle.

Question time, too, dealt with an issue raised in this column last week -- a document by Actuaries and Superannuation Consultants Towers Perrin which criticised a Professional Officers' Association superannuation fund.

Health Minister Ken Hayward and Association President Sean Curley said two senior public servants named in Parliament had been wrongly maligned. Mr Curley said Towers Perrin's final report, expected to be presented to the Association's council last Tuesday, was now being modified.

Hopefully the Insurance and Superannuation Commission, the Senate Committee on Superannuation, and the definitive Towers Perrin report will collectively resolve this issue.

Superannuation, its administration, and the investment of funds remains a headache nationwide. Relationships between Trustees, fund administrators, and contributors must be informative so that financial dealings are fair to all concerned.

Without a doubt the week's most important Parliamentary event was Thursday's tabling of EARC's report on Parliamentary Committees, a report which goes to the heart of the Parliament's role and its relationship to executive government.

The Opposition first raised the issue of parliamentary committees on Tuesday when it threatened to boycott them because the Government had stacked committees with factional appointees.

The Opposition claimed its participation would be a waste of resources it could concentrate elsewhere. Thankfully, it decided against the boycott.

However, it is unanimously agreed a lack of resources and infrastructure has rendered Queensland's one-House parliament ineffective in scrutinising the activities of Ministers and departments.

With this report, Premier Goss has a unique opportunity to be the historic reformer who catapulted the Queensland Parliament from a 19th century institution to one fit for the 21st.

Traditionally, there are two schools as to Parliament's role in our democracy. There is the Westminster view of the Parliament as the central institution - that the People elect Parliaments which in turn form Governments accountable to it.

There is also the pragmatic view that the People elect Governments which should be allowed to govern. Proponents of this also claim the Opposition and Commissions of Inquiry should not frustrate government decision making, and with it the people's will.

Treasurer Keith De Lacy of late has been a keen advocate of this, for example in public debate on issues such as the conversion of the old Treasury Building to a Casino.

Yet Tricontinental, WA Inc, and the South Australian State Bank are all testaments to the economic disasters that befall even the most democratically elected governments in states which, unlike Queensland, enjoy the scrutiny of Upper Houses.

Financial security as well as democratic principles therefore demand Queensland adopt a system of comprehensive Parliamentary committees as recommended in EARC's report.

The report recommends five specialist public administration committees, a Scrutiny of Legislation Committee, and a Parliamentary Proceedings Committee to supercede the current Standing Orders Committee.

The current Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee, responsible for overseeing the CJC, would be absorbed into a broader Legal and Constitutional Committee whose role would include the constitutional, parliamentary, and electoral reform jurisdictions of EARC.

An extremely important recommendation is a requirement Ministers provide a comprehensive response to Parliamentary Committee reports within three months of their tabling.

This would make Government receptive to Parliamentary Committee initiatives. It would prevent a re-run of the scandal where a comprehensive parliamentary report in December 1990 on CJC reform is yet to be responded to.

Under EARC's model, Ministers would provide details of committee recommendations the Government has accepted, those it has rejected, and why. EARC also recommended:

  • a total overhaul of Queensland's constitution which the commission proposes to begin in the first half of 1993;
  • an alteration to the Criminal Justice Act so that the appointment of a new CJC chair could be delayed until a new parliamentary committee was formed;
  • the selection of non-government members as chairs of some parliamentary committees;
  • the accountability of the PSMC to a parliamentary committee which could examine its annual and other reports and review its standards and guidelines;
  • the total separation of parliament's administration from executive government and a separate Parliamentary budget;
  • an ability to refer government legislation to parliamentary committees at the end of second reading speeches, and to debate parliamentary committee reports when they are tabled;
  • a parliamentary Scrutiny of Legislation Committee to monitor new legislation for legal consistency and its preservation of civil rights.
According to convention, this EARC report will now be considered by the Parliamentary Committee for Electoral and Administrative Review, and ultimately by the government. However, this particular report should be comprehensively debated by the whole parliament. After all, the issue of Parliamentary reform is a matter for all 89 Queensland parliamentarians, as well as of vital interest to the public at large.