President’s comment, 4 May 2013

Consultation should have no “right” answer

KBates-300.jpgThe Queensland Government has finally released its list of nine schools targeted for closure. There is no knowing when or even if this information would have become public if the Education Minister had not been pushed to reveal the list after media right to information enquiries and subsequent coverage.

The Minister is trying to quell public unease by saying there will be full consultation over the next six months (although he has also publicly stated that he wants to make a decision “within weeks” on turning Coorparoo Secondary College into a campus of Brisbane State High School).

It is very hard to trust this Government’s commitment to true consultation. Since coming to power, it has pushed through a raft of legislative changes with no consultation, or with a veneer of consultation over incredibly short time frames.

A classic example is the move of Labour Day from May to October. In making this decision in the Holidays and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, the Government admitted that “there has been no community consultation on the Bill. It is clear from earlier consultation in the preparation of the 2011 amendments that there is community and business support for the movement of the Labour Day rather than the Queen’s Birthday public holiday to the second half of the year.”

Really? The former government had indeed consulted Queenslanders on any proposed changes to public holidays to achieve a more even spread across the year, but the current one seems to have forgotten what Queenslanders actually wanted.

In reporting on the consultation process, called “Getting the balance right: A proposal on holidays in Queensland”, online media outlet brisbanetimes reported on 18 October, 2011 that: “more than 14,400 responses have been received to date, with 81 per cent in favour of reallocating student free days, 60 per cent looking for Easter break extensions, 96 per cent in support of a Queen's Birthday move, and 91 per cent for the creation of additional public holidays during Christmas festive seasons that fall on weekends.” The full report is still available online.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Queensland Government’s approach to consultation is designed to get the answer it wants – and if it doesn’t, it will ignore any evidence and push through with decisions already made.

The beatings will continue until morale improves...

Kevin Bates