Parties unite on pairs deal

by Chris Griffith
Published 28 April 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


In one of those rare Aquarian moments in Queensland politics, the government and the state opposition have reached agreement on a previously divisive issue -- "parliamentary pairs".

Premier Rob Borbidge and opposition leader Peter Beattie yesterday said they each had settled on a policy to provide a pair to their political opponents when they faced extenuating personal circumstances.

Mr Beattie said the opposition would also grant a pair to government ministers when they attended ministerial council meetings.

"Mr Beattie's cooperation on this matter is appreciated," Mr Borbidge said yesterday.

Pairing is an informal agreement between a government and opposition that means, for example, when one government MP is absent from parliament, one opposition MP will agree not to vote.

The arrangement is crucial in Queensland's hung parliament, where both the Coalition and Labor have 44 seats. The Coalition governs with the support of Gladstone independent MP Liz Cunningham.

Mr Beattie said the opposition would also allow a pair "if a minister attending a ministerial council meeting gives the opposition the program [the times] of that meeting".

"We are prepared to give pairs if there is a request in writing ... and when there are extenuating personal circumstances, for example Ray Connor who recently wanted to be near his wife when she had an operation."

Last month Mr Borbidge granted a pair to former Family Services minister Margaret Woodgate who had major heart surgery, as he did in opposition to veteran Labor backbencher Bill D'Arcy after a suspected heart attack.

However Mr Borbidge was not so amenable last August when former Labor Attorney-General Dean Wells requested a pair so he could join 40 politicians and sail to Mururoa, as part of a world-wide protest against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Mr Beattie said his pairing policy would not cover other forms of travel by MPs and government ministers.

Mr Borbidge said Mr Beattie's stand on this was "fair enough".

"That's in line with the arrangement I offered his predecessor when I was in opposition.

"Unless circumstances are extenuating, ministers have an obligation to be in parliament."