Unseemly squabble over keys to the Executive Building

In a sense that is what the 2015 Queensland election has come down to. From the Brisbane Times:

Newly elected LNP leader Lawrence Springborg, who is taking on the role as party leader for the fourth time, accused Labor of “trying to snatch the keys to the Executive Building”.

When the LNP was elected in 2012, it moved into the government’s George Street headquarters the very next day, but Mr Springborg urged Labor to be cautious, given the “unprecedented” Ferny Grove situation.

It is believed to be the first time in Queensland’s political history where a seat is known to be disputed before it has been called. The situation in Mundingburra did not come to light until after it had been declared.

“You could have the possibility of the government changing in the next few days and then changing again in the next month or so,” Mr Springborg said.

Springborg is arguing that an LNP caretaker government would provide necessary stability.

A flaw with that argument is that if Ferny Grove, which Electoral Commission Queensland has referred to the Court of Disputed Returns, requires a by-election the matter could take 6 months or even a year to determine.

By Wednesday Ferny Grove will be represented by a duly elected Labor member and Annastacia Palaszczuk will have the numbers to command the floor of parliament with the assistance of Peter Wellington, the independent member for Nicklin, who puts the case very well:

To put Ferny Grove into the picture is nonsense. While the seat is subject to assessment by the Courts because one of the candidates was ineligible, the fact is that it was won by Labor and Labor is entitled to include that seat in their claim to govern.

Ferny Grove could face a by-election after a Court hearing or the Court may decide that the preferences were so insignificant that a by-election is not necessary. The timeframe for this decision is uncertain. It could take over 12 months and it is unreasonable to expect Queensland to remain in a state of limbo until the outcome is known.

It is farcical for the new Leader of the LNP to seek to hold on to power until then leaving the Newman appointed senior public servants to govern the State.

The Governor has the responsibility to hand the reins of government to whoever is able to deliver the 45 seats and should not be drawn into hypothetical scenarios involving the future of the electorate of Ferny Grove.

Wellington refers to a blog post by Antony Green, which says exactly that.

Green finds the situation similar to South Australia in 2002 and Tasmania in 1989 where Liberal premiers refused to resign in the face of similar electoral circumstances. They had to go.

Labor claims Springborg has no mandate to govern. Jackie Trad told fairfax Radio:

“What happened on the 31st of January was the LNP lost the election,” she said.

“They are now – in an arrogant and dismissive way – they are still not listening to Queenslanders, trying to hold on to power.”

They want Newman out of the Executive Building at 6.01 pm on Tuesday night.

I believe Graham Orr, a QU academic who knows about electoral matters, suggested Springborg was attempting a “constitutional coup”.

I’ve also been told that Possum Comitatus reckons Springborg wants the Governor to break the relevant electoral act.

We shall see.

Another flaw in the Brisbane Times article is this bit:

While the Ferny Grove result will be sent to the Court of Disputed Returns, where a by-election is expected to be the likely outcome, results can still be declared in the meantime. (Emphasis added)

From Green’s earlier post:

However, beyond the narrowness of the result, doubt has been thrown on the election outcome following the revelation that the Palmer United Party candidate for Ferny Grove, Mark Taverner, is by credible sources an undischarged bankrupt and therefore ineligible to be a candidate for election to the Queensland Parliament.

Will this cause the courts to overturn the Ferny Grove result, order a by-election and leave the fate of government undetermined for some time?

In short – no. Resolving the Ferny Grove matter could take several months based on past Court of Disputed Returns cases, and there is nothing to stop a new government being formed in the mean time.

The Queensland Times has uncovered a Supreme Court ruling from a Moreton Shire election in 1985 which could form a precedent. A candidate’s name appeared on the ballot paper although it was discovered prior to the election that his American citizenship rendered him ineligible. The votes caste for him were simply set aside.

Meanwhile the Katter boys have released their full list of demands on the major parties. If they get their way all the money will be spent in the bush. Apart from royalties to regions, a railway line to the Galilee Basin and other boondogles, they want a series of roads projects, including an inland highway.

Springborg has apparently agreed to their demands. If so it’s magic pudding budgeting.