Queensland – beautiful one day, political havoc the next

Posted: January 22, 2017 in Ranting
Tags: ,

An MP from the Liberal National Party in Queensland has just quit LNP and jumped ship to One Nation in the Queensland parliament. And this highlights a nasty constitutional hole which has been allowed to remain for far too long. Although our Federal MPs might be excused – it is hard to find time to fix constitutional issues when there are all those entitlements to be milked to the nth degree.

Australia is a parliamentary democracy. We all get to vote for the representative of our choice in our electorates, be that a specific party or an independent. And that intention is any electoral result should continue to be that for the life of that parliament. It does not get much more basic than that.

So why is it that our Constitution only partly defends that principle?

If, as has just happened with Rod Culleton, someone leaves their parliamentary seat during the life of a parliament, this generates a casual vacancy. And the Constitution is quite clear on what is to happen with those vacancies. If it is in the House of Representatives, then a by-election is required. But if the vacancy is in the Senate, the Constitution requires the departing Senator be replaced by someone from the party that was elected to that seat.

So now we come to the glaring constitutional hole. Once someone has their backside on a seat in either the House or the Senate, there is nothing stopping them quitting their party to go independent, join another party or even form their own. And every time this happens, both the clear intent of the Constitution of Australia and the will of the electorate are being ignored.

The usual refrain coming from someone jumping political ships is that they shall continue to represent the people that elected them. However, a glance at the actual votes cast almost always reveals a consistent theme – lots of votes for the party they represented, next to none for the individual.

Using Culleton as an example again, his rhetoric on quitting One Nation was that the people of Western Australia elected him. However, a glance at the actual votes cast reveals that in the whole of WA, only 2,164 people or 0.16% of the eligible vote expressly voted for Culleton the individual. So, Rod, the people of WA did NOT vote for you. It could be argued to continue to receive his base salary of $199,040 plus all the ‘entitlements’ and perks was ethical fraud. And the same holds for every other ship-jumper who did not have enough direct votes of their own to justify continuing to have their backsides polish the red or green leather seats.

The recent events in Queensland show just how big an impact this Constitutional shortcoming can have. The State of Queensland basically has a hung parliament. In that situation, anyone in a seat not held by LNP or Labor is in a very powerful position. When Steve Dickson decided to quit LNP and jump ship to One Nation, he made a significant change to the context of that Queensland parliament. One Nation now has an extra seat that it never won at election. Everything that happens in the Queensland parliament is now subject to the will of a power bloc that was never elected to that role. The same happens every time there is a similar defection in the Australian Senate e.g. when PUP imploded.

Every time a disgruntled pollie decides to quit the political ship that they sailed into office, they are clearly in contravention of the spirit and intent of the Constitutional process which put them there.

The last time there was a crisis in Constitutional filling of vacancies was in 1975 when Queensland Senator Bert Milliner passed away. Instead of allowing the intended process to go ahead with Labor providing the replacement, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen used a then-loophole in the Constitution to send his own nominee. This loophole was legislatively closed in 1977.

There is nothing stopping this ridiculous, morally bankrupt and ethically fraudulent situation being rectified just as was done in 1977. If anything, it may be an even easier loophole to close. Yet nobody in either the House of Representatives or the Senate seems interested in doing anything about it. Could this be a repeat of the long-running ridiculous dramas over the ‘entitlements’ of politicians where cynics could be excused nothing has been done for so long because the political class as a whole stood to lose too much? Are our political ‘leaders’ ensuring they have a safety net that can keep them leather-polishing via the public teat that bit longer?

The Queensland situation demonstrates just how incredibly important this matter can be for our democratic future. We need our politicians to collectively grow some spines and fix it. NOW.

Ross sig

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