THREE years ago all Queensland MPs voted to establish new parliamentary committees to consider legislation before any debate in the House.
The move followed a 2010 review of the existing committee system, which noted that Queensland Parliaments are often dominated by large government majorities and are not under the scrutiny of an Upper House, as in other states.
It’s a good time to ask how well it has performed its task. On examination of the reports emanating from this committee, one could criticise the limited number of public hearings and the shortage of time given for public submissions.
In fact, rather than provide the scrutiny of an Upper House, the committee has been acting as a rubber stamp, accepting the department’s justifications for the bills, rejecting public submissions and consequently recommending that legislation be passed without change.
Here are a few examples.
The committee approved new laws increasing the time for motor vehicle impoundments from 48 hours to 90 days, even though public submissions were of the view that current penalties were tough enough. The Crime and Misconduct Commission produced research that offenders would take more extreme risks to avoid police capture and undermine community safety.
But the committee stated that the objective of the Bill was to be tough on crime to ensure Queensland was a safe place to live and to stop the hoons. The committee also supported an amendment of the Bail Act, which provided for a two-year imprisonment for any non-compliance.
Submissions expressed concern that change would result in the unnecessary criminalisation of people who had not been found guilty of an offence.
Concerns were also expressed about the impact on vulnerable people – those with drug or mental issues – and the increase in the number of people on remand in custody.
The committee responded by arguing the proposed Amendment will go a long way to ensuring all conditions of the Bail Act are complied with.
Another Bill requiring convicted drug traffickers to serve 80 per cent of their sentence before eligibility for parole also met with extensive criticism.
Submissions argued the benefits of longer parole to prevent addicts from relapsing into drug-related activities, giving an appropriate discount to lower-level of offenders and the denial of judicial discretion.
But the committee stated that the amendment reflected the Government’s commitment to deliver safer communities, with a hard-line approach to tougher sentencing laws.
Concerns were also expressed at the cessation of the Drug Court, which was seen as a significant aspect of the criminal justice system and an effective rehabilitation mechanism.
However, the committee supported the diversion of $19 million in savings to other programs but ignored that more than double that amount would be spent on the imprisonment of drug addicts.
The Red Tape Reduction for Liquor Bill reduces the regulatory burden for low-risk premises by exempting the need for Risk Assessment Management Plans and Community Impact Statements.
This Bill was strongly supported by Queensland hotels and clubs. But the AMA considered the proposed legislation failed to safeguard against the additional harm that increased access to alcohol would cause. Four other community groups made similar submissions.
But the committee supported the Bill, saying sufficient safeguards had been included.
The passing of the new bikie laws by the Newman Government, without any public consultation and after completely bypassing the Parliamentary Committee, is an outrageous abuse of parliamentary process.
If this Bill were to have had been examined by the committee, it is likely that the report would have outlined critical submissions from the Bar Association, the Law Society, The Civil Liberties Council and perhaps even the Supreme Court.
However, the committee, with its record of acting as a rubber stamp, would presumably have ignored these submissions, preferring to take advice from the Attorney-General’s Department.
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie’s legislation, diligently waved through the Parliament by a compliant committee, is plagued by insistent ideology, devoid of research and will result in spiralling cost of to the judicial system. The diminishing of judicial discretion is a serious denial of the doctrine of the separation of powers.
It must not be forgotten that the capacity for the Queensland Parliament to hold the Executive to account has been long weakened by the lack of an Upper House of Review.
George Bernard Shaw said “we should be governed no better than we deserve”. Have Queenslanders forgot the past? Are Queenslanders aware of what is at stake?
Jim Fouras is a former Labor MP and Speaker of the Queensland Parliament