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It's our system that is stuffed

By Scott Prasser - posted Friday, 27 August 2010


Most think about Queensland's infrastructure crisis only in terms of inadequate roads, dams, schools, power stations, public transport and traffic congestion. Poor planning, lack of funding and delayed decision-making are usually blamed for this mess.

That's only half right. The real culprit is Queensland's other infrastructure crisis, our governance infrastructure: our parliamentary institutions, election processes, the public service, the judiciary system, government business enterprises, our political parties and the way we develop and deliver policy.

They do not work any more. They are out of date, ossified and manipulated by whoever is in power to maintain office rather than to reflect democratic will or to be accountable to the electorate.

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The electorate may vote every three years but between elections voters have few mechanisms to hold government to account or to force it out of office for its ineptitude.

Look at how the current Government failed to inform the electorate in the 2009 election about privatisation. The lack of consultation is as bad as the Beattie government's enforced local government amalgamation.

Look at the overseas doctors' scandal. People die in Queensland's public hospitals, but not one minister has been sacked; a man dies in a police lock-up on Palm Island and not one minister has taken responsibility and resigned.

We cannot even pay staff in public hospitals, but no minister has been dismissed.

Millions of taxpayers' dollars have been squandered on “white-elephant” projects that were never properly costed, and failed to deliver - a magnesium project that lost millions, the proposed Traveston Dam, the Gold Coast's desalination plant, the Indy car debacle and tunnels with few cars.

And yet we have no parliamentary committee or independent inquiries into any of these debacles. Just a few post-event reports by the Auditor-General, who tells us the obvious - processes and planning were poor or virtually non-existent.

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Our present system of governance has broken down. Our parliamentary system is Westminster gone troppo.

Parliament sits only 50 days a year. The governing party controls all its procedures. Question time is a farce, legislation is rushed and the Opposition, inept as it is, neutered.

Queensland's single house parliamentary system makes it worse. An upper house, if properly constructed, might exert restraint on the present excesses of executive government, ensure more consultation and provide better representation for regions or other groups. But it has been ruled out by the current Government in its response to the Integrity and Accountability discussion paper last year.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on August 6, 2010.



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About the Author

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy and was Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. Scott has worked previously in senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments and in several universities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Recently, Scott co-edited with Associate Professor Nicholas Aroney and J.R. Nethercote the book Restraining Elective Dictatorship: The Upper House Solution? He has just written with Helen Tracey a report entitled Beyond Gonski: Reviewing the Evidence on Quality Schooling.

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