VOTERS go to the polls on Saturday, March 19 to elect new councils across Queensland.
However voters will be asked to determine another matter when they get to the ballot box.
They will be asked to vote yes or no in a referendum referendum whether to approve the “Constitution (Fixed Term Parliament) Amendment Bill 2015”.
While this sounds dry and dusty, it is a matter of some importance as it goes right to the heart of democracy in the state.
The essence of the bill is to change the current three year terms of office to four year terms.
The other key change is that the date of when the election would be called will be fixed and no longer at the discretion of the premier of the day.
The change has bi-partisan support in parliament with Labor and the Liberal National Party putting their support behind it.
Outgoing Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady has also explained why he is in favour of it (see page 7 of this edition).
It would seem that this referendum should pass comfortably.
Yet I have my doubts.
Australians have a poor track record in supporting constitutional change.
Unless the argument is clear, compelling and widely articulated, most voters tend to distrust it and vote no.
I suspect that is likely to be the case this time round too and I’m not entirely convinced myself.
My position is not the same as the position of the Local Government Association of Queensland which is more concerned for the effect on its own members.
And I have sympathy for the position of Mayor McGrady and others who say we have too many elections which have negative economic ramifications in the wider community.
I also agree that too many premiers (and prime ministers) manipulate the election date to their perceived best advantage.
Though arguably they also get it wrong.
Kevin Rudd would likely have won victory comfortably had he called an election in January 2010 after Tony Abbott had just been named opposition leader.
Rudd hesitated and was eventually rolled by Julia Gillard who fell over the line in the ensuing election.
Yet while I would support such a move at the federal level – which also has three year terms – I am hesitant to change the Queensland system for one simple and specific reason.
Queensland is the only unicameral parliament in Australia.
In other words it doesn’t have a Senate, an upper house of review.
The Senate was removed almost 100 years ago by then-Labor government which was frustrated in getting its agenda approved by an upper house stacked with conservatives.
Somehow they convinced that bunch of turkeys to vote for Christmas and ensured its own abolition.
Now, while it is admirable in some respects to cut down on the number of politicians, upper chambers do serve a valuable function in our democracy (and are not all “unrepresentative swill” as Paul Keating once memorably called them).
That function is review.
Upper houses generally have a wider cross-section of parties in their chambers who are forced to work collaboratively on committees looking at legislation.
For all the fault of committees, they do generally produce a better result and stop often arrogant and runaway governments from the effects of their own hubris.
With no such chamber in Queensland, there is nothing stopping a government from railroading its entire agenda unchallenged through parliament.
We saw the effects of that with the Newman government which badly over-reached and was sharply punished by the electorate as soon as it got the chance in 2015.
Is that a power of the people we really want to delay by 12 months?
I am unconvinced.