Parties must pledge reforms

by Chris Griffith
Published 13 September 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


The Fitzgerald reform agenda and corruption, the central issues of the historic 1989 Queensland election, have received little exposure in this campaign. Well, so far!

Instead, the parties have relied on other issue brick-bats with which to beat one another. Economic management and law and order have dominated a hastily cobbled-together and lackluster campaign all round.

Yet the long-term health of this state's democracy depends on the reform agenda continuing, which in turn depends on the community making it clear reform remain a major priority for any Queensland government.

The nightmare scenario after the election is not the unlikely prospect of a return to the Bjelke-Petersen era. It is the prospect of a returned and arrogant Goss Government, with 60 or more seats, believing itself electorally unobliged to press ahead with reform.

To that end, the Queensland Watchdog Committee last week sent a 50- question "reform survey" to all political party leaders to solicit their on-going commitment.

The survey seeks leaders' commitments to guaranteeing the CJC's future, declaring political donations, on-going electoral and administrative reform, reform of government media units, police, parliamentary, and constitutional reform, and corrective services accountability.

Also included was a request for each leader's written assurance that party MPs seeking re-election have repaid all unfairly-claimed travel entitlements identified in the CJC travel rorts report.

The CJC questions deal with the Commission's future, its independence, its role in fighting organised crime, and the need for key Commission appointments not being solely the domain of executive government.

Would leaders retain the CJC's current structure at least until reassessed at the end of 1994, as recommended by its governing Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee (PCJC)?

Would they delay appointing the next CJC chair so that a new PCJC, formed when parliament was reconvened, could vet the applicants proposed by executive government?

And would they in government respond by March 1993 to a major PCJC December 1991 report on much-needed and overdue reforms to the CJC?

Questions dealing with police reforms also canvass the political independence question.

Would leaders reverse the government's recent decision to include the Police Minister on the panel that short-lists the next Police Commissioner, and end the minister's involvement with police appointments at senior executive officer level?

Would a new government uphold the recent contract appointments made by current Commissioner Noel Newnham?

And would leaders implement a Police Board as a buffer for any future tension between a Police Minister and Police Commissioner, and end ministerial control over police deployment in operational areas?

The survey also canvasses justice issues such as a commitment to address the plight of people convicted on verballed police evidence, a matter neglected by the Goss Government.

It seeks a pledge to the CJC's recommended system of limited, regulated, and decriminalised prostitution, the retention of the current decriminalisation of homosexuality, and to upholding the presumption of innocence in the criminal code.

On electoral reform it seeks leaders' commitment to one-vote one- value, the formation of a state parliamentary committee to investigate future electoral reform, and to implementing EARC's recommendations for extra allowances and facilities for MPs servicing remoter electorates.

However, the top of the survey's agenda is reform to the state parliament, a venue regarded as irrelevant by some, yet vital if government in Queensland is truly to be open and accountable.

The Goss Government's reform of parliament so far has been tokenistic, despite Tony Fitzgerald QC's pleas that the Queensland Parliament must be restored to its fundamental Westminster role to prevent future political corruption.

Yet this year there has been only 23 parliamentary sitting days, the least for the past 20 years.

In fact the next government must sit seven more days to beat the Bjelke-Petersen government's low of 29 days in 1983.

Hopefully, the next government will convene parliament for several sitting weeks immediately after the election, a period considerably more than the minimum required to pass the budget and form the ministry before the Christmas recess.

The survey therefore asks leaders for a commitment to a minimum 50 calendar sitting days each year, some 17 parliamentary weeks.

They are asked to promise they will bring the operation of the Queensland parliament's standing orders to House of Representatives standards.

And they are asked to commit their governments to changing standing orders so that parliamentary committee reports are fully debated when tabled, and to responding in full to these reports within a limited time period, for example three months.

The survey also covers the incomplete EARC review on government media units - on this it is notable that a number of Government departments did not respond to written requests for information by EARC.

Finally, there is more evidence of the Government's manoeuvering to undermine the influence independents could have on the election outcome.

It has quietly left out of the new Elections Act an EARC recommendation to include on ballot papers the word `Independent' beside the names of candidates who do not belong to registered political parties of 500 members or more.

Under EARC's proposal, `Independent' would have been included unless the candidate requested it be omitted.

Now only the major three parties will have their names on the ballot paper. There will be no description accompanying other candidates whatsoever.

This move is not surprising given the electorates' current penchant for independents -- 182 have nominated for the October 3 Victorian election.