Thursday, 13 August 2009

Snarkey ignoramuses pan the idea of reintroducing an upper house in Queensland, based on the comments on a story on the Courier-Mail website recently. A few days later, when the Fairfax-run BrisbaneTimes website puts up a more reasoned take, they still use a headline designed to appeal to the electorate's hatred of politicians: 'Fancy funding more politicians?'

Typically for Fairfax, which established the BrisbaneTimes a year or so ago to give Queenslanders a less sensational alternative to the News Ltd tabloid, experts are consulted, including Nicholas Aroney, a reader in law at the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland.

He says that an upper house is required to function as a house of review.

"Queensland is reaping the consequences of a long incumbency just like the 1980s National Party era," he said.

He argued the Queensland government was not effectively scrutinised by parliament, whereas in New South Wales, for example, the upper house often exposes incompetence in government.

"It constantly scrutinises; that's what Queensland needs," he said.

Then, of course, an opposite view is inserted. This comes from Dr Rae Wear, a senior lecturer in political science, also at UQ.

"I think it's an expensive option and I'm not convinced an upper house in itself would improve things," she said.

"New South Wales has an upper house and there's no great evidence that it's free of corruption."

Dr Wear points out that running the senate, in terms of senators' salaries only, amounts to $8 million annually. In a total expense of $53 billion, however, that is chicken feed.

Cut to Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, who wants a toothless tiger on top.

Senator Macdonald said he envisaged an upper house with limited powers, so it could not hold up legislation indefinitely or have the power to bring down a government, but could delay or amend legislation.

"By placing the aforementioned restrictions on an upper house, its focus could remain on thoroughly scrutinising the decisions of government and voicing popular disagreement when it arises," he wrote.

Fairfax also points out that running the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the Ombudsmans office cost money, too.

Whatever the outcome, from my point of view an upper house is absolutely essential. So many things are happening here as a result of inadequate scrutiny by government. The problem is that any decision to reintroduce an upper house (which was abolished in 1922) will have to work in the context of an extremely low approval rating for politicians generally. They're even less popular than journalists.

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