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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 243


Mr WELLS(11.44) —After the last election in Queensland Mr Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, currently the Premier, waited on the Governor of Queensland and informed him that the coalition led by him commanded a majority of seats in the Queensland House of Assembly. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) , who is trying to interject, can bleat as loudly as the sheep he so vividly represents but I am not going to be put off. Solely because of the demonstrable truth of the claim that the Premier made at that time the Governor appointed him as the head of the Queensland Government. The most basic convention of any parliamentary democracy is the convention that the Government is drawn from the party or coalition of parties which holds the majority of seats in the legislative chamber. A moment's reflection would tell anybody that there would be no point in having elections at all if this convention were not observed. This convention is not being observed in Queensland. The Premier of Queensland now heads a government which does not have a majority of seats on the floor of the Queensland House. It follows that in Queensland the most basic assumption of any parliamentary democracy has now been subverted.


Mr Ian Cameron —Are you scared to go to the polls?


Mr WELLS —Unreflective members opposite, like the honourable member for Maranoa, might very well say that since an election has now been called this whole argument is theoretical. In fact, it has very practical consequences. Mr Bjelke- Petersen will go into this election clothed in the pride and panoply of power. He will go to the electors of Queensland as Premier, holding a position to which he is no longer entitled. As Premier, he and his Ministers have the advantages of the primary attention of the media. They have recourse to the power of the purse. They have extra staff. They have logistical advantages which flow from being in government, not the least of these being the Government aircraft, which is paid for by the people of Queensland and used for the benefit of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. They retain the power of intimidation, a power which has been used more ruthlessly by the Government in Queensland than by any other government in the history of this country. If anybody says that the great principle that a government is drawn from the party which has the majority of seats in the House of Assembly does not matter because there is going to be an election, then that person just has not thought about it.


Mr Ian Cameron —Wait until Joh-


Mr WELLS —And you, sir, have not thought about anything.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind the honourable member that he addresses his remarks through the Chair and should consider what he is saying.


Mr WELLS —There is a remedy for this undemocratic situation. The Leader of the Opposition in Queensland, Mr Keith Wright, has called on the Government to recall the Parliament to test whether the present Premier does in fact command a majority of the seats in the House. It is this test which Mr Bjelke-Petersen is seeking to shirk by saying that he will not even call the Parliament together to bring down the Budget-a Budget which Mr Wright has described as an illegal Budget, illegal because it would be imposed by a government which does not have a constitutional entitlement to govern.

There are constitutional means of redress, and this might surprise honourable members opposite. Under section 12 of the Constitution of the State of Queensland, the Governor has a discretion to recall the Parliament. This would force the Bjelke-Petersen Government to face the motion of no confidence which it is so unconstitutionally trying to avoid and it would enable the elected representatives of the people of Queensland to determine who will have custody of the people's affairs between now and the election. I am talking about a matter of constitutional law, not merely of politics. It would not be legally valid or appropriate to test section 12 of the Constitution in the Supreme Court by seeking a writ of injunction or mandamus against the Governor. However, it was established in the 1962 Western Australian case of Tonkin v. Brand that the writ of declaration was available in these circumstances. Edmund Burke, a philosopher with whom honourable members opposite would agree if only they were capable of understanding him, said that this was like a case of allowing the sick parts of the Constitution to be regenerated by those parts which remained healthy.

The matter is in fact quite simple, so simple that it is probably understood even by the newly appointed National Party members of the Queensland Cabinet. Either one is in favour of democracy or one is not. If one is in favour of democracy, one believes in majority rule. One does not subscribe to the view which Mr Bjelke-Petersen expressed at a National Party conference when he said: 'We have got to get away from talking about majority rule-it just doesn't add up '. Further, if one believes in representative democracy then one believes that the Cabinet should be drawn from the party or parties which hold the majority of seats in the legislative chamber. If one does not believe in these things, one does not believe in democracy. If one believes, as Mr Bjelke-Petersen obviously believes, that it is appropriate to govern without a majority of the seats, without a majority of the votes, in defiance of the will of the Parliament and in defiance of the will of the people, then one is a totalitarian.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 11.49 p.m.