Opposition roles to dwindle
Liberal National Party MPs will dominate the parliamentary committee system designed to keep the government of the day accountable, with 75 per cent of positions going to the ruling party.
brisbanetimes.com.au last month reported the LNP was planning to cut the number of non-government MPs on the six-member portfolio committees from three to two, in the wake of the party's election landslide.
But Leader of the House Ray Stevens today announced the government would also increase the size of each committee from six members to eight.
This means LNP MPs will hold six out of eight positions on each portfolio committee, while the remaining two positions will be left to some combination of Labor, Katter's Australian Party and independent MPs.
Queensland Parliament's seven portfolio committees are a vehicle for scrutinising legislation, investigating key issues, and reviewing budget spending.
While not always in the public spotlight, the work of the committees is considered crucial given Queensland Parliament does not have an upper house to keep a check and balance on the government of the day.
Currently, the law states each committee must have at least six members and half of them must be government MPs and half non-government MPs.
In the event of a tied vote, the chair, usually from the government of the day, has a casting vote. But any committee member can write a dissenting report which is included in the committee's reports on proposed new legislation and other proposals.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Mr Stevens said the committee system would be “enhanced” by increasing the size of portfolio committees to eight members this term.
A formula would also be enshrined in law to determine the make-up of committees depending on the make-up of parliamentary numbers.
For example, when non-government members hold fewer than 15 per cent of the seats in Parliament, the committee size would be eight members made up of six government MPs and two non-government MPs.
If non-government representation is between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, seven-member committees would be made up of five government MPs and two non-government MPs.
If the non-government representation is between 25 per cent and 50 per cent, six-member committees would have three government MPs and three non-government MPs, similar to the system under the existing law.
Mr Stevens, an LNP MP, said the changes were needed to ensure the committees could continue to effectively scrutinise new laws and the actions of government.
“The original laws establishing the new portfolio committee system were not designed in a way that took into account the result the Queensland public delivered at the March 24 state election,” he said in a statement.
“As such, the Clerk of the Parliament has advised the laws now need to change to ensure the committees remain workable and can function practically.
“The Clerk's advice, which the government accepts, is to increase committee membership this term to eight members, made up of six government members and two non-government members.
“This change is in line with a 1992 recommendation of the Electoral and Administration Review Commission - established out of the Fitzgerald Inquiry - that the makeup of parliamentary committees should reflect the composition of the Parliament.”
The announcement comes in the wake of confirmation the Labor opposition will be moved out of the parliamentary precinct and into another building nearby, prompting ALP criticism.
The LNP has decided not to house Labor in the purpose-built opposition offices on Level 6 of the Parliamentary Annexe, saying this was needed for committee meeting space.
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was concerned the parliamentary precinct would now become a “government precinct”.
“The opposition is very concerned that they are going to be once again booted out of the parliamentary precinct,” she said.
“I am concerned about the cost to taxpayers. There is a purpose-built office there on level 6 that is ready to utilise and we could move in straight away. We want to get on with the job.
“Now we are told we’re going to move not once but twice. From Monday we’ll be working from Mineral House and four weeks later we’ll be moving into [a] Public Works [building].”
Mr Stevens said there would be office space in the parliamentary precinct for opposition MPs and some of their support staff during sitting weeks.
Mr Stevens said the total number of committee members was increasing because some appointees sometimes could not attend due to other commitments.
Pressed on whether the changes to the ratio of non-government MPs would reduce scrutiny, Mr Stevens said: “Not really.”
He said the changes were based on formulas worked out by the Clerk of the Parliament. It would be “crazy” to keep a three-each committee breakdown because that would mean non-government MPs would have to juggle numerous committees.
Mr Stevens said he was confident government and non-government MPs alike would be able to raise questions and make suggestions for improvements to legislation.
“Say the numbers are 4-3 it’s still going to be voted down if you like. It’s not a matter of voting it down, it’s about having a full and complete investigation of the legislation,” he said.
“You will find as was the case in the last Parliament is the people who raise the questions are from the government side.
“We won’t necessarily agree with the opinions that these LNP MPs raise; they may well have an opinion shared by the non-government members.
“The point is in order to have rigorous and complete scrutiny of the legislation before it is debated in the house and this legislation is improved.”
Earlier, Mr Stevens said in his statement the LNP was “determined to govern responsibly and to respect the faith the Queensland public has shown in us”.
He said the government understood the crucial role committees played in scrutinising the actions of government.
"We also recognise the committee system needs to reflect the realities of the Parliament, and that is why we will act on the Clerk's advice to amend the Parliament of Queensland Act,” he said.
Katter's Australian Party last month blasted any reduction to non-government committee roles as "dangerous", saying the government must not reduce parliamentary scrutiny.
The government has argued that many committees meet on Wednesday mornings it is therefore impractical for some MPs to be members of numerous panels.
Ms Palaszczuk said the opposition was yet to be formally advised of the committee system changes, which went “to the heart of our democracy where there is a government and an opposition”.
She said the opposition would expect no changes to the composition of the budget estimates committees and Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee.
Last year, Mr Newman's deputy, Jeff Seeney, backed away from the LNP's support at its 2009 convention for a referendum to re-establish an upper house in Queensland.
Mr Seeney said people at the convention had wanted to see more accountability and input into legislation. However, he said the push for an upper house had been “superseded by the new committee structure” supported by both major parties in 2010.