MY SAY: The dangers of 'Yes' votes for four-year terms

WHEN voters show up at the polls on March 19 for the local government elections they can expect to see Labor and the LNP in rare unanimity.

The party faithful will be there supporting the part of the election process you will have heard little about.

As well as electing mayors and councillors voters also determine a State Government referendum proposition, supported by the Opposition but not Katter Australia Party, which requires constitutional change.

Both Labor and the LNP want fixed four-year terms for State Parliament.

The referendum question is actually two propositions artfully combined into one. The first, that parliamentary terms be fixed and not at the whim of the government of the day, tends to obscure the second that elections only be held every four years.

Fixed terms make sense, do not need a referendum and can be introduced as an Act of Parliament at any stage the Government or Opposition are prepared to table a Bill.

The change to four-year terms requires a referendum and there is a very good reason for that.

Graeme Orr, a Nambour High School graduate and now law professor at the University of Queensland, helped Katter Australia Party prepare the "No" case for the referendum.

The "Yes" case is being run by Labor and the LNP. Mr Orr says Queensland is the only Australian state without an Upper House of review. It had one but did away with it in 1923.

The three-year term was introduced at that time as a constitutional sweetener to ensure the electorate could provide regular oversight of government. And that is exactly what voters have consistently shown a willingness to do. They turned savagely on a tired Labor Government in 2012, giving the Newman-led LNP a massive 78 seats of the 89 on offer.

However when Campbell Newman last year then went to the polls early after showing arrogant disregard for large sections of the community who had helped provide that mandate, Queenslanders were waiting with their baseball bats. Would another 12 months in government have provided the Bligh Government with the time to get back on track? Would another 12 months have made any difference to Campbell Newman's poll slide?

They are questions voters need to ask themselves before voting "yes" to fixed four-year terms.

Queenslanders lack an upper house to provide checks and balances to governments who have a winner-takes-all approach to their responsibilities. They also lack a Bill of Rights and protection of the courts from government excess. Without either, voters would be foolish to weaken the only oversight they have by extending parliamentary terms.

Arguments about saving money are spurious as are those about the changes enabling polls to be fixed outside the North Queensland wet season. That is actually an official argument for the "Yes" case as is that other states except Tasmania also have four-year terms.

They also have upper houses, something the argument fails to mention and in the case of NSW campaign donation rules that bar developers and their associates.

Federally Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared his government believes "fervently, passionately, in a transparent democracy".

If that's the case, as well as reforming Senate voting rules which are the target of his aim, he may well turn his eye to real time declaration of donations to political parties and to the immediate reporting in substance of contact with lobbyists.

That may go some small way to re-assuring a disillusioned voting public they still have a stake in the democracy the Prime Minister holds so dear to his heart.


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