Constitution Of Queensland and Other Legislation Amendment Bill


I rise today in support of the bill before the House, the Constitution of Queensland and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. In particular, I rise in support of the statutory recognition of the parliamentary committee system. Labor has had a long commitment to the parliamentary committee system. The modern committee system in this place is borne out of the Fitzgerald reforms and the sweeping reforms delivered in this place during the first term of the Goss Labor government. I think any rational assessment of our system demonstrates that our committees work well. Our committee system fulfils its functions of providing scrutiny of legislation and scrutiny of public administration and, importantly, it is a way for the public and for stakeholders to engage meaningfully in the legislative process. Our committees do the hard work, very often while the cameras are off. This work has improved legislation and helped us match legislation more closely to public expectations.

The unicameral nature of our parliament is often a point of discussion, and in my view that discussion is often unfair. I tend towards the view put by Mr Budden of the Law Society when he said in his evidence to the committee inquiry

I note that a lot of other speakers today have mentioned that it is vital in a unicameral legislature to have this system. That is undoubtedly true. To be honest, I think this system performs a little better than some of the upper houses lately. I strongly suspect that if more people had seen the parliamentary committee system in operation, rather than the snippets of question time they might see on the news, they would have much more faith in our democratic system.

As the Premier has said, our parliamentary committee system has been an evolutionary process. The most recent evolution in 2011 is what really gives the system strength. I will highlight a few points from the Clerks submission to the committee where he talks about the success of the 2011 reforms. The Clerk says

There is no doubt that debate on bills is now more informed, relevant and (ironically) shorter than the lengthy and largely irrelevant second reading debates of the past.

His statement goes on

Hard data provides some evidence of other outcomes. Statistics of portfolio committee activity from August 2011 to December 2015 ... reveal that not only is there an increase in activity (meetings, hearings, reports etc.), but that committee recommendations in relation to bills and other inquiries are being responded to very positively ...

He points out that, of the 369 legislative amendment recommendations over that period, 56.6 per cent were accepted. I think that is a testament to the success of the portfolio committees and the important work done by all of the committee members in this place. It is also important to remember that these recommendations are often informed by the formal consultation with the community that is carried out by our dedicated members of those committees. Once again, I quote the Clerk, who said

Stakeholder engagement is also very highcoming from a very low base with virtually no formal consultation on legislation prior to 2011. These outcomes in turn suggest a more vigorous legislative process and augur well for better legislative outcomes. 

It is very easy to take a theoretical view of how the parliament should operate. Indeed, it is something most undergraduate politics students do on a fairly regular basis, but, as we know, no two parliaments are the same and the theoretical does not always translate into the real world which is why it is so valuable that we have evolved a system that has shown demonstrable value to our democracy, to transparency and to engagement with the community.

It is why our system ought to be entrenched in the Constitution. Entrenchment will secure our committee system as a fundamental principle of this democracy. This bill is a significant and important step in the evolution of parliamentary committees in this state. Further, it is an acknowledgement of the importance, the dedication and the hard work of our parliamentary committees, their role in the review, the separation of powers in this state and the function of our parliamentary democracy. I commend the bill to the House. 

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