Hon Curtis Pitt Member for Mulgrave, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, during Queensland Parliament Question Time. (Liam Kidston)
Hon Curtis Pitt Member for Mulgrave, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, during Queensland Parliament Question Time. (Liam Kidston)

The sneaky new laws passed under cover of COVID

An expert in Constitutional law says the Palaszczuk Government has been acting "contrary to the spirit" of the Constitution in pushing through legislation without proper scrutiny during the COVID pandemic.

And he's suggested the Constitution might need to be changed to stop the Government from ditching established checks and balances.

Labor Speaker Curtis Pitt obtained the stinging advice following a complaint from Manager of Opposition Business Jarred Bleijie that legislation was being pushed through with major amendments, up to 100 pages long, tacked on at the last minute.

In veiled criticism of the government, Mr Pitt said while he wasn't referring the matter to the Ethics Committee, he wanted to "affirm the important principle that members should be afforded the opportunity to contribute to parliamentary debate".

In considering Mr Bleijie's complaint, the Speaker sought advice from constitutional expert Gim Del Villar QC, who found that in recent sittings:

- Laws increasing public funds for state elections and capping political donations contained surprise amendments banning election signage and relating to political donations and gifts.

- Agriculture laws later contained unscrutinised amendments to allow significant work on Paradise Dam, near Bundaberg; and

- A Bill providing portable long service leave to community service workers had 51 pages of unrelated and last-minute amendments added that froze public service pay, changed bail requirements, changed the Ekka public holiday, and amended the Youth Justice Act.

Mr Del Villar said amendments were not properly scrutinised by the parliament or the public before they passed.

The Palaszczuk Government has been criticised for pushing through laws without proper scrutiny. (NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled)
The Palaszczuk Government has been criticised for pushing through laws without proper scrutiny. (NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled)

While not in breach of the Queensland Constitution - which requires a six-week examination of legislation before it's passed - the actions were "contrary to the spirit" of it, he found.

"In my view, the treatment of the CSI Bill, the Electoral Amendment Bill and the Agricultural Amendment Bill 2019 by the government and the Assembly exposes deficiencies in how section 26B of the Constitution operates," Mr Del Villar wrote to Mr Pitt.

"In its current form, section 26B allows the government, by moving amendments to a Bill that has been examined by a committee, to avoid scrutiny of those amendments through the committee process.

Manager of Opposition Business Jarrod Bleijie (Liam Kidston)
Manager of Opposition Business Jarrod Bleijie (Liam Kidston)

"It is irrelevant whether the amendments are substantial and whether they pertain to the subject matter of the Bill.

"If committees are to scrutinise and review Bills effectively, then it would be desirable to explore amending the Constitution to address this deficiency."

Mr Pitt said he would be raising the issue with the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, including whether changes should be made to legislation, standing orders or sessional orders.



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