Sheldon reignites 4-year debate

by Chris Griffith
Published 20 Oct 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The issue of four-year Parliamentary terms is firmly back on the state's agenda, with a pledge yesterday by Acting Premier Joan Sheldon to take a submission on it to State Cabinet.

Speaking from the Liberal Party's federal council meeting in Hobart, Mrs Sheldon said the council's resolution overwhelmingly in favour of extending the terms of the House of Representatives and the Senate, had created the ideal climate for the issue to reconsidered at state level.

"Regardless of who may be in power, I think it's the best thing for the people - otherwise there is very little time for a state to make tough and firm decisions," Mrs Sheldon said.

"Seeing this has become an issue down here and was debated, I thought it might be an idea to take a submission on this to Cabinet and let Cabinet discuss it."

If State Cabinet accepts Mrs Sheldon's proposal, Queenslanders face the prospect of two referendum before or at the next state election.

In the lead up to last July's state election, the Coalition promised a referendum on the issue of restoring Queensland's Upper House.

As recently as last month, Premier Rob Borbidge reaffirmed an Upper House referendum would proceed, but not during the current financial year.

Queenslanders last were asked to support four-year terms at a referendum initiated by the Goss government and held concurrently with the March 1991 local government election.

However Labor's 1991 proposal lost. It was supported by the Liberals, but vehemently opposed by then National Party leader Russell Cooper.

Mrs Sheldon has proved to be a consistent advocate of four-year parliamentary terms, having publicly supported them several times in Opposition since the 1991 referendum loss.

However National Party support has been more chequered. When in office in the late 1980s, Premier Mike Ahern was an enthusiastic supporter, but the National Party's latest position is to support four-year terms only with a minimum of three years.

Opposition Leader Peter Beattie said Labor still supported four-year terms. "If there was a referendum on it, we'd support it, but it wouldn't be at the top of the list."

In other motions before the council, treasurer Peter Costello suffered a defeat when he unsuccessfully supported an amendment to exclude discussion of equal distribution of federal funds to the states in a proposed peoples' convention on the republic.

And Mrs Sheldon indicated her support for moves by the ACT and Northern Territory governments to have the council affirm the two territories' rights to pass their own laws.

The move is seen as an indirect debate on the Northern Territory's euthanasia laws, and a counter-attack to Victorian Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews' federal Bill designed to scuttle them.

"Even if it is a contentious issue, they should have those rights and they shouldn't be overriden by the Commonwealth," Mrs Sheldon said.

The council meeting, at Hobart's Wrest-Point casino, is due to finish at lunch-time today.