Monday, May 14, 2012

Lack of Oversight

What do you call a system where decisions are made without consultation, without collaboration, without consideration of people who are in an expert position to assess those decisions, identify risks, propose alternative solutions…
It’s a dictatorship. An autocracy. It’s tyranny – the literal opposite of democracy.
Sometimes, it’s convenient to just make a decision and get on with it. Sometimes it’s the sensible thing to do, when there is conflict, or deadlocked votes, or an emergency that means you can’t wait to convene a committee. Sometimes - rarely -  you have have to do it.
The rest of the time, in this country, we are democracy. Here in Queensland, we have an overwhelming LNP majority as a result of our recent democratic process. We have a single political party holding not just a controlling majority, but an embarrassing majority of seats in government. Equally, the non-government seats are so few, they are easy to dismiss.
And Premier CanDo Campbell Newman has done precisely that.
According to this afternoon’s Brisbane Times, Premier Newman will be introducing some of his election promises to parliament this week, but without the benefit of cross-party scrutiny. It won’t be all of the bills or all of the promises; he’ll be making his decisions on a case by case basis.
Well, hoorah! One man at the top of the Queensland Government tree is deliberately cutting out the committee process to ‘fast track’ the bills that he believes don’t need scrutiny. Those bills will relate specifically to election promises, and he believes that his record-breaking majority is his mandate to implement bills without scrutiny.
For those trying to block reality, the LNP currently holds 78 seats in the 89 seat parliament.
Seriously, no-one doubts Premier Newman’s mandate, but this decision stinks of arrogance. There is a genuine lack of accountability and transparency in a process where oversight can be traded for expediency.
It becomes even less palatable considering that the new parliamentary term starts tomorrow. Even though he is Premier, Campbell Newman has not sat for even one day as a member of Queensland’s parliament, yet here he is, undermining a process that is critical in a unicameral democracy.
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has likened the decision to something we would have seen during the accountability-free years of the Bjelke-Petersen regime.  Even with the numbers so heavily in the LNP’s favour, tradition would have placed equal numbers of LNP and non-governmental members on each committee.
In a nod to what would have been a ridiculous workload for the few members on the Opposition benches,  Premier Newman committed raised the number of members on each committee to eight, and reduced the number of non-governmental representatives to two. What used to be 50/50 committee membership is now 75/25.
And if hand-picked bills don’t go to committee, it’s entirely useless.
Do the Opposition members have a say in which bills go to committee and which don’t? It’s unlikely.
Think about it: mandate or not, Premier Campbell Newman is cherry-picking bills to be fast-tracked. The fast-track mechanism is to bypass the scrutiny of committees which exist specifically for that reason. And this is after he's relocated the non-government members out of Parliament House altogether and 'up the road'.
Premier Newman has in effect erased the role of the Opposition, and with no upper house to provide a brake of any kind, he is setting a precedent that quite frankly scares the hell out of me.

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