Sunday, March 25, 2012

Restore the Queensland Legislative Council

A landslide victory for Queensland's Liberal National Party!  Congratulations to them.  But O how lopsided the result: a mightily humiliating seven seats for Labor (their worst result ever I suppose), losing  government and 44 of their previous 51 seats, while the LNP has over eleven times as many, seventy-eight if the results in three remaining doubtful seats pan out as predicted.  Now, it cannot be good for democracy to have a governing party holding 78 out of 89 seats, with but a scattering of independent members and the few remaining Labor faithful: that's the sort of Parliament one expects to find in a one-party state.

Queensland went through something like this before, back in the days of the notoriously corrupt Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen (aided by a gerrymander).  When one party has gained an overwhelming advantage, the end results are not always beneficial at all.

What the answer?  Restore the House of Review!  For Queensland – alone among Australian States – has but a unicameral Parliament.  The old, appointed Legislative Council was abolished back in 1922; arguably, if it had been retained, but made an elected chamber (as was done in other States) it would have served as a valuable mechanism for moderating the one-party petty authoritarianism of previous Queensland governments ever since its abolition.  Elected tyrannies are still tyrannies.

The old Legislative Council, as is the usual practice, had about half as many members as the Lower House did; on that model, I suggest a chamber of 44 members, with the M.L.C.'s to be elected by some system of proportional representation (as done nowadays in W.A., S.A., Victoria and N.S.W. when choosing their own Legislative Councillors), whether in multimember electorates or "at large" as the Americans say.

Assuming, as a first estimate, that voting for such a hypothetical chamber had taken place at Saturday's General Election in Queensland, and the votes for each party roughly paralleled those cast for seats in the  Legislative Assembly, then the resultant Legislative Council would now have the following composition on a proportional basis:

22 LNP
12 Labor
  5 Katter's Australian Party
  3 Green
  2 Other*

(*in practice, these two remaining seats would probably be split between the LNP and Labor also)

Such a House of Review, with half its members not from the governing party, would be better able to keep an eye on the new Newman Government than the pitiful six Labor M.L.A.'s, two Katter creatures and two independents that will together constitute what passes for an Opposition (the latter groups, while technically on the cross-benches, will be jammed into a corner in the chamber with the remnant ALP).

While I am not so fond of the Greens myself, it seems only just that, as one in nine voters put them first on the ballot, they should have some representation in Parliament on behalf of those who like them.

An Upper House is a valuable check and balance, and one Queensland – now blessed with a new Premier and governing party – would do well to seriously consider restoring.

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