Queensland politics in the twentieth century was dominated by periods of extreme party hegemony - mainly through the manipulation of the electoral process. Contributing to this hegemony is the reality the Queensland has been somewhat unique in maintaining three major parties. In federal politics and other states the anti-labor parties have combined into a coalition.
Queensland boasted the world's first Labor government in 1899. This government lasted seven days until the conservative factions banded together to form a government. When Labor finally gained power again in 1915, it managed to hold onto government until 1957, despite one three year hiccup. After such a long period of Labor hegemony, the National Party (Country Party) held onto power from 1957 until 1989.
This extremely long period of party dominance meant that Labor and the Nationals were able to get away with abuses of state power, discrimination of minorities and little care for civil or political rights. While Labor was in power it manipulated public works to ensure its dominance. Swinging seats were bought with new public work projects, and then Labor would go in and unionise the workers, helping to guarantee voters to secure the seat.
Queensland also produces the One Nation party. This was a result of the long hegemony of the Nationals. As the party focused more and more of its interests on Brisbane and the coastal urban regions it alienated the voters in rural Queensland. Pauline Hanson's populist - if repugnant - message was successful in gaining twenty three percent of first preference vote in 1998. Enough to gain eleven legislative members.
One Nation has since imploded, partly through internal dissension, partly because the federal Liberal Party co-opted its xenophobic policies in the 2001 federal election. One Nation was also targeted by the two major parties, Tony Abbott in particular raising $100,000 in
a slush fund to support prosecution of One Nation in the courts
The Pastoralists dominated from 1860 until Labor took power in 1915. Initially, only males above the age of twenty-one, with residential qualifications and British subjects were able to vote. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders that could meet the property qualification were able to vote. In 1907 women were enfranchised.
Like the Commonwealth and NSW electoral innovations, they were implemented by the dominant party to further ensure their majority. Queensland electoral changes were also done for partisan advantage. In 1892 optional preference voting was implemented by conservatives in 1892 to try and protect the divided conservative parties from Labor. Compulsory voting was introduced in 1914 by the Liberal Government.
Labor maintained the preference system until their vote began to wane in the 1940s. Consequently they legislated "first past the post" to take advantage of the non-unified anti-labor parties. Ironically when the Labor Party split into the ALP and Queensland Labor, mimicking the federal Labor split, the first past the post system worked against them.
Labor also implemented malapportionment in 1949 with the zonal system. This remained in various forms until 1991. Labor was suffering less than fifty percent voter support and tried to weight the electorates toward provincial towns and mining areas. The zonal system was modified by the Nationals when they won power, changing it in 1958, 1971 and 1985.
The manipulation of the electoral system in Queensland led to the major party at the time being advantaged. The two large blocks of political hegemony are testament to that. The electoral system helped skew the will of the people, often significantly so. In 1976, Labor achieved thirty-six percent of the vote, but only achieved thirteen percent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry focused on the issue of electoral reform, and optional preference voting was returned in 1992.
For a long time, the abolition of an upper house in government was a stated Labor party platform. Only in Queensland was this policy successful. In 1917, Premier Ryan put a referendum to the people to abolish the Legislative Council. The referendum failed. Later in 1922, Premier Theodore took advantage of an absent Governor to put in a "suicide squad" in the Legislative Council. A Labor member of the Legislative Council was made Lieutenant-General - and he quickly added fourteen new members to the upper house. They then passed Theodore's legislation to abolish the upper house.
The Country Party supported the legislation, as the Legislative Council contained appointed members. The Country Party was seeking to implement an elected Legislative Council. Unfortunately, no implementation to replace the abolished house was considered. To entrench the unicameral nature of Queensland government, in 1934, Labor enacted legislation requiring a referendum to re-establish the Legislative Council.
Without a house of review, Queensland has undoubtedly suffered at the abuses of Executive power.
In 1867 Queensland passed the "Constitution Act". Wanna writes that until
the new Constitution
, there were twenty-seven statutes that can be considered an informal constitution. Some of these included;
Constitution Act 1867
Legislative Assembly Act 1867
Constitution Act Amendment Act 1890
Constitution Act Amendment Act 1896
Officials in Parliament Act 1896
Constitution Act Amendment Act 1922
Constitution Act Amendment Act 1934
Constitution (Office of Governor Act) 1987
Parliamentary Papers Act 1992
Parliamentary Committees Act 1995
Other than the legislation relating to entrenchment (ie requiring a referendum to change), all these acts have been repealed with the enacting of the "Constitution Act of Queensland 2001". This makes the Queensland Constitution an unclean read, it cannot be absorbed in one sitting without referring to external legislative acts.
Despite describing a unicameral parliament, the Queensland constitution is the most modern description of a Westminster system. Like other more modern Westminster constitutions, the Queensland constitution describes the Executive Council formally. The Queensland constitution also refers to the "Sovereign" - despite being written in 2001, Queensland was unable to purge the monarchy from the constitution, nor make the Governor the highest executive authority in the state.
An unusual aspect of the Queensland constitution is that it contains a chapter on local government. I am not sure of the historical reason or responsibility behind this addition.
Like all Westminster systems, the Executive is so polluted by the embedding of the Executive Council in the Legislative that the Governor's responsibilities are often implied and up to the Governor acting on the moment. These are the infamous "reserve powers". Queensland has been no different and reliant upon Governors exercising responsible and rational judgement.
In 1987 Governor Walter Campbell refused to dismiss the ministry at the behest of Joh Bjelke-Peterson. Joh wanted the dissidents in his party out of his way and sought the power of the Governor to do it. Campbell asked Mike Ahern if he could form a government - Ahern could. Governor Peter Arnison also refused to intervene when the Attorney General had a vote of no-confidence against him; this was despite the Governor having the constitutional authority to remove governments and ignore advice from the Premier.
Even with the formality of a single constitution, the reserve powers of the Governor are still implied. Despite the constitutional allowing the Governor to dissolve an Assembly, it doesn't explicitly require it to be at the advice of the Premier or when an election is due. This is in Chapter 2, section 15;
15 Summoning, proroguing and dissolving the Legislative Assembly
(1) The Governor may summon the Legislative Assembly in the Sovereign's name by instrument under the Public Seal of the State.
(2) The Governor may prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly by proclamation or otherwise whenever the Governor considers it expedient.
The Governor as head of the Executive Council can change the times and place that the Assembly meets and sits. The constitution requires a minimum for the Assembly to meet though - a protection against the Governor usurping power by not having the Assembly sit - the Assembly must sit at least twice a year and with a maximum of six months inbetween sitting.
The constitution contains some formal language on the Governor accepting the advice of the Executive Council. This is contained in Chapter 3, section 27;
The Governor in Council is the Governor acting with the advice of Executive Council.
In addition to the Governor's responsibility to the Assembly and Executive Council, the Governor is able to pardon people.
The constitution maintains the existing status-quo of a unicameral parliament. The number of members is set to eighty-nine, and requires that the members be elected by eligible voters. The constitution also defines that there be one Assembly member to each electoral district. While these are defined by the constitution, it can be modified by a parliamentary act.
There is also language to protect the Assembly being dissolved by the Governor if the current monarch's reign ends. This is contained in Chapter 2 section 17;
If the Sovereign's reign ends, the Legislative Assembly, as constituted immediately before the end of the reign, continues in existence, subject to dissolution under section 15(2), for as long as it would have continued if the Sovereign's reign had not ended.
This recognizes the arbitrary nature of succession in the monarch. While elections are rhythmic, a new monarch is based upon the death of the existing monarch. I fail to understand why Queensland maintained a link to the monarch in the constitution. Even with the Westminster system, the governor can be written into the constitution without the need to have their power coming from the monarch.
In the constitution, a member of the Executive Council cannot be a Parliamentary Secretary. The Executive Council contains a Cabinet led by the Premier and containing ministers of the state. The Governor appoints the ministers of the Cabinet, but at the advice of the Premier. Both the Governor and Premier can have a minister act for another minister. A Premier cannot have a minister perform another ministers function for more than fourteen days. The constitution demands that there be an Executive Council, this is contained in Chapter 4 section 48;
(1) There must be an Executive Council for the State.
(2) Executive Council consists of the persons appointed as members of the Executive Council by the Governor by instrument under the Public Seal of the State.
The way out is to resign from the Executive Council, or be removed by the Governor. The Governor is the formally the head of the Executive Council, even though the power of the Executive Council is in the Premier, who advises the Governor.
Power of the State
The constitution contains a chapter on the power of the state. From the title, it might be construed that this chapter represents limits on the state's power, but instead it allows the state to act in different ways, such as a commercial entity. The Queensland constitution has no bill of rights in it, but does explicitly allow the state to enter into contracts;
51 Powers of the State
(1) The Executive Government of the State of Queensland (the "State") has all the powers, and the legal capacity, of an individual.
(2) The State may exercise its powers - (a) inside and outside Queensland; and (b) inside and outside Australia.
(3) This part does not limit the State's powers.
I am not sure about allowing the state to have the legal status of an individual. In the United States, corporations have the same rights as individuals. I am not certain that this is a good thing, a government, like a corporation, is a legal construct. What would the state being an individual entail? That is has freedom of speech? Privacy protection? It can be sued? The state can go bankrupt? The state has political rights?
I do not trust government, or those that wield the power of the state, I would prefer that the constitution allow the state to enter into binding contracts - and if necessary run commercial activities - but not contain language that it has the legal capacity or rights of an individual. I just don't trust the government that far, no matter how convenient it is for the government.
The constitution specifies that there must be a Supreme Court of Queensland and a District Court of Queensland. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Queensland and subject to the Commonwealth Constitution. I could not determine exactly who appoints judges, it appears that the Governor does, but there is no explicit mention in the constitution if it comes from the advice of the Assembly or not.
Judges can hold their position indefinitely, but have the option of retiring or getting kicked out for bad behaviour or incapacity. The removal due to bad behaviour must come through the authority of the Legislative Assembly after accepting the results of a tribunal.
Despite the Queensland form of government being a unicameral parliament, given that the constitution was ratified in 2001, you would expect that the Queensland Constitution would be the authoritative word on the Westminster system. This does not seem to be the case. Like many more modern constitutions that model the Westminster it mentions the Premier and the Executive Council. The Premier does not have their powers defined explicitly, nor is there great detail in the Executive Council. More time is spent on protecting against an unexpected change in the monarch.
The Queensland Constitution also suffers from having many entrenched components from previous acts. This makes it a difficult and chopped up read. The Commonwealth constitution is superior in this respect - despite being a weak wet noodle of a constitution - in that it is all contained in the one document. I am also dissappointed in the Queensland constitution in that it maintained the monarch and all the vagaries of the Governor's reserve powers. There is also no Bill of Rights contained within it.
This constitution was a bit dissappointing as it contains no innovations. It is good that the Executive Council and Premier is formally recognized, but this is more a consolidation of the previous acts than any advance in constitutional drafting and enactment.