May 16, 2008 | Graham

Some Queensland Libs still having trouble with democracy

According to The Courier Mail, and confirmed from sources, the Queensland Liberal State Council decided last night to bring their plebiscite on the amalgamation forward, and to reject calls to postpone thier convention. However, according to the Courier Mail, the convention won’t be taking a vote on the merger proposal, although it will discuss it. Sources disagree that this is the case, saying this just refers to the fact that there is no motion on the agenda because the merger wasn’t an issue when the agenda was put together. They say that the urgency provisions of the standing orders will allow a motion to be put forward. but it got into the Courier somehow! Which means that some on State Council think that they can prevent Convention voting on the issue.
This is an extraordinary situation. The Liberals were obliged to hold their convention last year, and didn’t. That means that any members of the State Council who are elected by Convention have at best a tenuous right to be in their positions. That includes President and Vice-Presidents. It’s hard to think of another democratic organisation where this could be allowed to happen. Even Robert Mugabe has only managed to defer his second-round election by a few months!
Some of these same people are not only shy of going to the membership for a fresh mandate, but on this issue they appear to want to deny them the right to vote on an issue which is of primary importance – the very existence of the Liberal Party.
The Liberal Party State Convention is the supreme body of the party, and it can decide what it debates and how. As the plebiscite will be held by a postal ballot which does not close until some time in June, after the Convention, that body has a duty not only to debate the issue, but to express an opinion on it.
I am told that the plebiscite package will include the proposed constitution, but it will not include any submisisons from proponents and opponents. This has got to be unacceptable. Consent on these matters has to be informed, and how can it be informed if your major source of information is the Courier Mail or snippets on TV and radio? Espcially as the document that party members receive is likely to be complex and of the variety that, were this a consumer transaction, you would be advised to get professional advice on.
In fact, to make a plebiscite fair, the proposed constitution ought to go to a convention to be decided, and only after that process should it be put to the membership. The document that they will receive will be the work of very few people, which increases the likelihood that it will be flawed, or only partially understood.
I hope that State Convention takes matters into its own hands and deals with this matter in an open, transparent and democratic manner. What is proposed will have momentous consequences for Queensland and for Australia.

Posted by Graham at 1:59 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. It really doesn’t make sense at all to be debating a motion at Convention on this matter. Already a plan of attack has been outlined which gives those very same delegates a say at the 26 July Constitutional Convention, and furthermore a direct plebiscite of members gives an even greater level of rank and file input.
    Sure there is no problem with having an open discussion but one resolving a motion would not be helpful. Convention can debate a motion if it wants – if 75% of delegates agree to initiate a motion debate but what more could debating a motion at Convention add to the process? No doubt it is just another avenue for those noisy people to hear the sound of their own voices. The silent majority just wait to use their voting slips.
    If delegates do not want a merger to proceed, it’s simple, vote no at the Constitutional Convention. The President has done the right thing in working to bring a concluded proposal for the membership to vote on. If he had caved in to all the squealing going on by the noisy minority this would never have gotten out of the blocks.
    There is no refusal of a vote on the future of the Liberal Party because in fact there will be two!
    I was against the merger in the start but now I am just going to wait and see what they come up with.
    PS The Mugabe reference is poor journalism. We live in a proud democracy.

    Comment by Doug — May 16, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  2. How is the Mugabe reference poor journalism? It is either correct or it isn’t.
    Some people seem to have this assumption that “our” system could never become as bad as “their” system. If you start with the assumption that we’re better, then any unfavorable comparison seems unfair. But that’s just because of the blind faith of the people who love our system.
    Most tyranny was not introduced on an official “tyranny day”, but was introduced one step at a time — while the people being ruled continued to claim they were free until far too late.
    Comparisons with systems we don’t like are an important way to ensure we’re not going down that path.

    Comment by Temujin — May 16, 2008 @ 10:01 pm

  3. If there was a motion at convention while a plebiscite was underway what would happen if their results were conflicting? Say the convention voted against and the plebiscite voted for it. What then? Or if the convention voted against would the plebiscite be stopped or the results not correlated nor published?

    Comment by Sam Tecon — May 18, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  4. Sam, the plebiscite has no power to bind. It’s indicative only. So, if there were some conflict between the two, then convention would prevail.
    The benefit of having a debate at convention, and the convention voting is that it would provide guidance to people voting in the plebiscite. The problem with the plebiscite is that there will be only one proposition put to them, and it won’t be put in context. It will be quite contrary to the way that every other matter is decided in the party, which is a vote of those present at a meeting after all sides have had a chance put a case. That way you get to see what wrinkles there might be in the proposal, as well as the alternatives.
    The constitutional convention shouldn’t be regarded as a fait accompli either. In fact, I’m not sure how it is being conducted legally. To change the Liberal Party’s constitution you have to go through this process:
    150 (a) Before convening a Constitution Convention, State
    Council shall appoint a Constitution Review
    Committee which shall examine the Constitution,
    call for submissions from all Members and units of
    the Party and submit proposed amendments of the
    Constitution to the State Council. State Council
    shall submit proposed amendments to the
    Constitution Convention for its consideration. The
    Agenda to be circulated to delegates at least
    fourteen days prior to the Convention;
    (b) any proposed amendment to the Constitution must
    be submitted to the Constitution Review Committee
    not least then sixty days prior to the Constitutional
    Convention and reported upon by the Constitution
    Review Committee whose report must be circulated
    to delegates with the proposed amendments.
    This proposed process is just a take-it or leave it one, more akin to a liquidation! So it might very well not be legal.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 18, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

  5. I believe that you are absolutely right, “Consent on these matters has to be informed”. I also agree that the plebiscite package should include as you said, “submissions from proponents and opponents”. The Liberal organisation should be pressed heavily on this matter. But I think it should go further. On the basis that the plebiscite has been announced and will be initiated through mail out prior to convention it will be difficult but probably not impossible to get additional information to the membership prior to their vote. I suggest that a second package be mailed. Unless there is some constitutional problem, the second package should include the actual ballot paper as originally proposed plus information that the convention has resolved needs to be sent. This way the membership could not vote without the benefit of the conventions considerations. I also believe once this process is underway, it would be disastrous to try to shut it down, try to amend it or overrule the process at the forthcoming convention. There will be a certain amount of expectation from the Liberal membership that they should have the final say. I don’t believe that most Liberal members would be prepared to delegate their vote on such an important issue once a plebiscite is underway. If the proposed constitutional convention is not constitutional it should be made constitutional. This should be another topic of debate at the forthcoming convention. One way or another, an outcome to these matters needs to be made constitutionally and that will not split the party. The party must ensure that the convention and plebiscite don’t conflict.

    Comment by Sam Tecon — May 18, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

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