Troubled Queensland government thin on numbers

by Luke McCormack

News Weekly, April 25, 2015
Just 10 weeks after the Queensland general election that swept the Liberal National Party from government speculation has erupted that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk may lose control of the 89-seat Parliament after expelling one her Labor MPs.

Member for Cook Billy Gordon was expelled from the Labor Party before Easter. The reason was that Mr Gordon did not disclose his criminal record, or his failure to lodge tax returns or his failure to pay child support.

Billy Gordon won the seat of Cook back from the LNP. Cook is generally considered a safe Labor seat. Voters turned against the incumbent David Kempton with a two-party-preferred swing of 10.2 per cent, easily over–coming the 5.7 per cent margin.

His criminal record included adolescent foolishness but also an apprehended violence order taken out by his own mother.

In addition, there are several allegations of domestic violence by Mr Gordon’s former partner and another woman that are now the subject of a police investigation.

Since the controversy, Queensland Labor has tightened its policy for screening of candidates. According to The Australian (April 14, 2015): “From now, candidates – at their own expense – will be required to undergo a Queensland Police Person History review, a driver’s licence check, provide a traffic offence summary, undergo a bankruptcy record check, directorships check, public record search, an ASIC check, and provide tax lodgement confirmation and a Child Support Agency account statement.

“Candidates must also apply to the Queensland Police Service under Right to Information legislation requesting any crime reports in which they are nominated as a suspect or person of interest.”

There has been plenty of discussion in social media and talkback radio about whether Billy Gordon should resign from Parliament: a suggestion that Mr Gordon has publicly rejected. Of course, the political implications are stark. Labor relies on Mr Gordon’s vote to maintain government, along with independent MP Peter Wellington.

While political parties can set their own internal standards for matters of screening candidates, there is no legal reason why Mr Gordon should resign from Parliament.

In a public disclosure via Facebook Mr Gordon made a statement detailing his past history and concluded: “I recognise that my own personal circumstances are no excuse for my non-disclosure; however, from this troubled and fractured past I’ve managed to piece together a positive and constructive life.

“That includes serving in the Army Reserves (51st Battalion), volunteering with the Foundation for Young Australians as facilitating their Indigenous Youth Leadership forum and working for Reconciliation Australia as the organisations education officer, before being elected to the Queensland

The two crossbench MPs from Katter’s Australian Party, Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth, have been drawn into the discussion of an “unstable government”.

Robbie Katter, when quizzed about which major party has his support, has wisely avoided premature comment and instead offered a refreshing call for more attention to policy aimed at assisting farmers and the unemployed, and at alleviating the harsh environment in credit-lending by commercial banks.

If either Labor or the LNP were in need of the Katter’s Australian Party in order to form government it is clear that key items such as the need for a state-backed rural finance corporation would be near the top of the list of non-negotiables.

With the Abbot Government poised to have Australia join many other nations such as the UK, Japan and Germany as inaugural members of China’s Asian Development Bank, the irony in the LNP’s ideological opposition to state-backed finance corporations is becoming increasingly obvious.

It is also becoming more difficult for the LNP to justify to an increasingly sceptical rural sector that has not seen any of the economic benefits that were promised from the deregulation of their markets.

Hung parliament

At the election Labor achieved a total of 44 seats and needed only one more MP to achieve a majority bloc (45) and thereby form government.

It was Peter Wellington, MP for Nicklin, who obliged, having already made his intentions clear. This was not the first time for Mr Wellington. He acted similarly in 1998 to allow Peter Beattie to form government for Labor.

Mr Wellington has since been elected Speaker of the House, but warned that Labor would have to convince him of the merits of each bill put before the Parliament and he said he would at times be open to voting with the opposition when merited.

Regardless of the outcome of the police investigations into allegations against Mr Gordon, both the Government and opposition should be aware that voters have little patience for drawn-out political introspection. Likewise voters do not easily tolerant arrogance or hypocrisy in political leaders.

Queensland voters are more concerned about the economy (especially job and income security), the high cost of living and asset sales than endless political disputes.

Luke McCormack is Queensland state president of the National Civic Council.