Governor has crucial role

by Chris Griffith
Published 10 December 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Queensland Governor Leneen Forde could face a crisis similar to Sir John Kerr's, should Premier Goss request a state-wide poll, a Queensland constitutional expert warned yesterday.

Constitutional lawyer Professor Chris Gilbert said Justice Ambrose's decision on Friday to order a re-election in the south Townsville seat of Mundingburra allowed for a state-wide poll in two ways.

He said the Premier could ask Mrs Forde for a general election, if Labor lost Mundingburra and a hung parliament resulted.

But the Premier could also decide to ditch the Mundingburra re-election altogether, and substitute a general election.

Last week, the ALP floated the option of dumping a Mundingburra re-election for a state-wide poll on the front page its Socialist Left faction's newspaper, Keep Left.

Labor insiders yesterday said a general election could be better for the party despite its recent poor polling, especially as an Opposition campaign urging voters to lodge a protest vote would not be relevant. The party's hold on government was at risk no matter what, they said.

Party sources also said the calling of a general election would thwart any immediate attempt to replace Mr Goss with Mr Beattie as leader, whereas a Labor loss in Mundingburra would clearly leave Mr Goss's leadership open to challenge.

But Professor Gilbert warned Mrs Forde must agree to any request by Mr Goss before a state-poll could occur.

He said Mrs Forde could take advice from whoever she pleased. She could decide a new state election was unnecessary and wasteful given the last election was just five months ago.

"She has very, very real power -- as much as everyone discovered Sir John Kerr had," Professor Gilbert said.

In the event of a hung parliament, Professor Gilbert said Mrs Forde could ask Mr Goss to test his leadership on the floor of State Parliament, and could accept a commission from either leader to become Premier should either the Coalition or Labor form an alliance with Independent Gladstone MP Liz Cunningham.

Prof Gilbert said stable government was possible with a hung parliament, and cited the 1989 Tasmanian state election as a precedent for Queensland.

In May 1989, Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray prorogued Parliament and tried to hold onto power after losing his parliamentary majority in a state election. It is widely believed Mr Grey asked Tasmanian Governor Sir Philip Bennett for a fresh election, but was refused.

However after lengthy behind the scenes negotiations, the five Green Independents holding the balance of power forged an alliance with then Labor Opposition Leader Michael Field.

Sir Philip then asked the Green independents for a written guarantee of supply and stable government. Sir Philip interviewed each Green independent and was given the same guarantees face to face.

On that basis Sir Philip invited Mr Field to govern -- the Labor-Green alliance lasted 2 1/2 years.

"The state would not be ungovernable -- but it becomes extraordinarily dicey, the governability of the State depends on a hairline, Professor Gilbert said.

In other developments yesterday:

  • Opposition leader Rob Borbidge described as "total hypocrisy" Mr Goss's decision to allow Mr Davies to remain a minister while not a member of parliament. He said Mr Goss had attacked this practice in his November 30 speech on the need to rewrite the Queensland constitution;
  • The Australian Conservation Foundation, who split with the Green Party and backed the ALP at the July 15 poll, again urged conservationists to support Labor so that the Goss government could continue to implement its environmental reform agenda;
  • The likelihood of a Melbourne Cup field of candidates increased yesterday, with groups saying they would consider standing candidates in Mundingburra. Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action manager Les Malezer said Aboriginal people may wish to form an alliance with the Greens or run a candidate to emphasise the appalling conditions at Palm Island.