Peter Broelman

Referendum: Stability vs accountability over four year terms

THE push to lengthen Queensland politicians' terms by one year might sound like a ploy by MPs trying to squeeze an extra year on $151,000 from the public.

In fact, both Katter's Australian Party MPs in State Parliament argue that is partly what it is about - job security and power.

But their 87 fellow MPs believe ticking "yes" at the coming referendum to change parliamentary terms from three years to four will allow governments to act with a longer view. Queenslanders were not swayed by the argument 25 years ago in the aftermath of the heavy-handed Joh Bjelke-Petersen government, and voted it down.

And this referendum has come as a surprise to many people expecting just to be voting for their councillor and mayor on March 19, when it will also be held.

Griffith University School of Government and International Relations lecturer Dr Tracey Arklay said there had been no robust discussion since the referendum was called in December because the proposal had the support of Labor, LNP and the two independents.

Although four-year terms will bring parliament in line with other states, Queensland does not have what those governments do - an upper house to scrutinise bills, finances and government actions.

Queensland's Clerk of the Parliament, Neil Laurie, last year told the committee assessing four-year fixed terms that the lack of a house of review had allowed any party at the helm of government "practically unfettered power to pass legislation and financial measures, despite objections from the Opposition, crossbench (if any) and the public generally".

"The only historical safeguard has been the fear of the public reaction at the next election," he said in his written submission.

There are parliamentary committees to review proposed legislation, but in the past 20 years 115 bills have been deemed urgent and bypassed examination, although only six could be considered genuinely urgent.

The man who has spent two decades in the front seat observing governments come and go supports four year terms - on certain grounds.

Mr Laurie said three years was not enough time to develop policies, plan and implement them, without being distracted by elections.

The average time between each of the past 10 general elections is just two years and seven months.

As part of the proposal, the government also wants state elections to be held on the last Saturday in October, every four years, to remove politics from election timing.

Fewer elections would also save money, with the last Queensland election costing $24 million.

Dr Arklay said ultimately the referendum came down to whether Queenslanders wanted accountability or efficiency.

Mostly Aussies vote 'no'

BOOK prices, bird hunting and a Communist Party. What do they have in common?

They were all the topics of referendums that did not pass voter scrutiny. In 1951, the Federal Government narrowly failed in its bid to ban the Communist Party of Australia.

Down Under voters have a history of being nay-sayers, with only eight of 42 national referendums passing.
Six of eight Queensland referendums have failed, including two on prohibiting alcohol.

The Swiss Government is more democratic, with voters heading to the polls several times a year to participate in referendums.

In 2012, they rejected a proposal that book prices be cheaper and knocked back a chance to legally lengthen their annual leave from four to six weeks.

The island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea last year rejected a plan to ban spring hunting that allows migrating birds to be shot before they can breed.



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