Surprise! This weekend you will be heading to the polls to vote in a referendum on fixed, four-year Parliamentary terms – Oh, you didn’t know? Well now you do!
One of Queensland’s leading political analysts is warning against a YES vote in Saturday’s referendum to give politicians an extra year in power.
In a rare show of unity, both sides of politics have been campaigning in support of extending parliament’s three year term to four years.
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They argue that it would provide more stability to business and allow governments to implement long term policies more effectively.
However Professor of Law at the University of Queensland Graeme Orr, says while most politicians mean well, Queensland does not have enough systems in place to ensure power is not abused.
“The Australian Parliament, like Queensland, has three-year terms,” Professor Orr told MyGC.
“Sure, the other states have four year terms, but Queensland is radically unlike other states. Other than elections, we have no real checks on the power of executive government.”
Prof. Orr said Queensland has no Upper House to review Government bills or actions.
“A labor government abolished the unelected upper house in 1922. It atleast had the wisdom to lock in three-year terms, to ensure a regular ability to chastise or recall under-performing governments or MPs.
Prof. Orr argues major MPs rarely show independence from their party leaders, so governments routinely dominate Parliament despite receiving well under half the vote.
“Unlike the US, UK, Canada, NZ or even Victoria and the ACT, we have no Bill of Rights,” he said.
“So the courts cannot review bad laws. We have a ‘committe system’ in parliament, but at any time a governmental majority can weaken and repeal that.”
Prof. Orr says most politicians are well-meaning, but we need systems to ensure power is not misused.
“If this referendum passes, Queensland’s constitutional system will be identical to the Northern Territory’s. See how well that has fared.”
“Queensland Politics lacks checks and balances. Until we reform those problems, the ballot is the best protection we have.”
However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk argues Queenslanders need certainty and that a fixed four-year-term would benefit both the state and voters.
“Queensland is the only State without four-year terms,” the Premier said.
“We believe that four-year fixed terms will bring certainty, it will save taxpayers money on the number of elections,” Ms Palaszczuk told the Brisbane Times.
Ms Palaszczuk says the fixed term will mean voters will know the exact date they will be heading to the polls and will take power away from politicians.
“It will mean Queenslanders are no longer surprised with snap elections at what may be opportune times for the Premier and the government of the day, but what may be inconvenient times for the voters and businesses of Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk told the ABC.
Deputy Opposition Leader and Member for Surfers Paradise John-Paul Langbroek is also for the four-year-term and says it’s not about politicians wanting better job security.
“This is about making sure that if you’re in business, or a member of the community you can be sure that four year terms will make a difference for stability of government and stability of decisions,” he told MyGC.
“I think if you do get the sense of people from all sides of the political spectrum, from business as well as the unions saying that this is something that’s beneficial, then surely we can shed some of the cynicism and say it’s a good decision on behalf of Queenslanders.”
“While businesses have been saying for a long time they’d like this certainty, now we’re asking (voters) to vote YES on Saturday, to four-year terms,” he said.
However Prof. Orr argues that the referendum rolls two questions into one. One that makes some sense – fixed election dates. One which makes little sense – diluting your right to vote.
“The official ‘yes’ case includes trivial irrelevancies, such as fixing October elections will avoid election at the height of the football or wet seasons,” he said.
Prof. Orr says the referendum was brought on with minimal public education.
“I know lawyers and academics who were unaware it had even been called,” he said.
“Normally, I would support constitutional change. Our System is far from perfect. But this referendum is regressive.”
If passed, the change would mean voters go to the polls in the last weekend of October every four years.
WATCH: Prof. Orr’s case against the four-year Parliamentary term: