The Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, has caused plenty of heartburn to governments of both persuasions during his tenure as Clerk. He has made a habit of publicly and plainly pointing out the dangers of unfettered executive power being provided to any government, no matter what their colour. Perhaps the record length of his time in office, at over twenty-one years, combined with his ever more imminent compulsory departure date of 2009 – brought about by a decision by both major parties to pass legislation in 1999 limiting a Clerk’s term to ten years – helped increase his outspokenness.
Evans has well and truly stood out amongst Officers of Parliaments in Australia as being willing to publicly speak out when he sees government action which he believes compromises the integrity of the Parliament.
But it seems he might now have a competitor in the form of Neil Laurie, the Clerk of the only legislative chamber in Queensland’s Parliament.
Mr Laurie has reportedly provided a submission to the Queensland Government’s integrity review which is scathing of past and current practices at parliamentary and government level in Queensland.
Not only does the Clerk of Queensland’s Parliament reportedly suggest that the current political culture in Queensland is in some respects worse than in the pre-Fitzgerald era, he also calls for significant electoral reform – including the introduction of some form of proportional representation in the state’s electoral system. Not even Harry Evans advocated for introducing proportional representation!
While there is no way in the world either major party in Queensland will currently support proportional representation and multi-member electorates for state Parliament, it is interesting that the Clerk of the Queensland Parliament has highlighted this point.
I sometimes think the biggest lost opportunity of the post-Fitzgerald era in Queensland was the failure of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) to recommend proportional representation for Queensland – especially given the lack of an Upper House – when they were tasked with reviewing the state’s electoral system soon after the election of the Goss Labor government in 1989.
However, EARC didn’t recommend this (in fact they even recommended maintaining a small degree of favouritism for rural areas when the boundaries and size of electorates were being considered.
Perhaps if the Clerk of the day had been a champion of the idea, as seems to be the case with the current Clerk, there might have been a chance of introducing this significant and positive reform.