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.

7 thoughts on “Unseemly squabble over keys to the Executive Building”

  1. My take on the Ferny Grove election is that the preferences of those who voted PUP should be counted. The people who voted PUP had a right to vote and this right should not be lost just because it was found after polling day that the PUP candidate was an undischarged bankrupt.
    Springborg’s attempt to stay on as caretaker premier just adds to the perception of LNP grubbiness.

  2. John, I agree the PUP votes should be counted. I think he presented as the genuine article and that’s all that mattered to voters. It only becomes a problem if he wins, which he won’t.

    It seems Sprinborg has not accepted the KAP demands. They are very much an ambit claim.

    Both the Borg and Annastacia have had a cuppa with the Guv, who says he’ll commission a premier when the election is officially declared, probably on Friday.

  3. Graeme Orr, professor of law at the University of Queensland and author of The Law of Politics says that:

    Those who voted for the Palmer Party candidate in Ferny Grove did so fully entitled to express a preference between ALP and LNP. With optional-preferential voting we have the fairest voting system in the world in terms of maximising citizen choice.
    The High Court has said that, with preferential voting, a disqualified losing candidate does not affect the election. The best argument the LNP lawyers have is to argue that anyone who just voted “1” Palmer, might have voted LNP had the Palmer candidate not been on the ballot. They then need to argue there were many more of them than the ALP’s winning margin of more than 400 votes.

    The Electoral Commission has said it will refer the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns. It’s a reasonable, if unusual, position to take.

    The law and precedent is clear that the member for Ferny Grove, like any other MP, is entitled to sit, vote and represent that constituency until such time as they are unseated by a court.

    My take is that those PUP voters who exhausted their preferences should have known that the PUP candidate was unlikely to win and should have known that, under the Qld system, that they had to allocate preferences if they wanted to have a say re whether the ALP or LNP was to win the electorate.
    We have never had a rerun of an election simply because some votes were informal because of voter ignorance.
    It would be a bit ironic if the LNP got the by-election that they desired because they ran their “just vote 1 ” campaign with the aim of convincing minor party voters that they didn’t need to to allocate preferences. (They sought an injunction to force Labor to remove signs encouraging people to fill in all the squares.)

  4. Well said, John. And it’s interesting that the Courier Mail presented Graeme Orr’s view. The ABC was driving me bats by just relaying the LNP pap without seeking any balancing comment, leaving aside seeking the truth!

  5. KAP are looking for a judicial inquiry to examine “inter alia political donations and the awarding of government tenders, contracts and approvals”.

    It was made necessary by “public concern over conduct of government in regards to donations, separation of powers, tenders, contracts and approvals”, the KAP document said.

    Labor are heading down the same track.

    Speaking at a law conference in Brisbane on Monday night, Ipp [former ICAC chair] ridiculed the CCC after hearing of its rationale for not investigating a complaint about legislation favouring a mining company that spent at least $90,000 campaigning for the then premier Campbell Newman in his seat in the 2012 election.

    A fellow panellist, barrister Stephen Keim, said the complaint brought by Labor about Sibelco was rejected by the CCC with a response saying it was “unable to take further action”.

    The CCC gave the reason as a lack of evidence. David Ipp said it was the CCC’s role to find evidence. They didn’t even try.

  6. The box tonite said that the ALP winning margin in Ferny Vale was larger than the number of exhausted preferences for the PUP voters.

    Hard to see how a by-election would be required now.

Comments are closed.