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16 Sep 2021 22:15
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  •   Home > News > International

    Mark McGowan announces sweeping changes to WA's electoral system, abolishing regions

    The McGowan Government endorses new rules which critics say will diminish the voice of the regions in State Parliament.

    The McGowan Government will use its large parliamentary majority to make sweeping changes to WA's electoral laws, which critics say will diminish the influence of regional WA.

    A system of "one-vote, one-value" will be introduced for the Upper House of State Parliament tomorrow, setting up a fight with the Nationals and other regional campaigners who had vowed to fiercely oppose the changes.

    Rather than Upper House MPs being chosen from six regions of varying size, as under the current model, the whole state would serve as a single electorate electing 37 members under the Government's plans.

    Group voting tickets, which critics argue are used to 'game' the system using complex preference deals to elect candidates with tiny shares of the vote, would be abolished.

    Premier Mark McGowan endorsed the changes, which were made by an expert panel the Government appointed.

    "The Upper House is broken, the system is broken," Mr McGowan said.

    "This report has shined a light on that and identified ways of making it fairer, equal and more democratic.

    "Today is a historic day for democracy and fairness in WA."

    Undemocratic rorting: McGowan

    Mr McGowan pointed to the election of Daylight Saving MP Wilson Tucker to justify the changes to the system.

    Mr Tucker was elected despite getting just 98 first preference votes.

    "There was clearly gaming and rorting of the system going on," Mr McGowan said.

    "It was clearly undemocratic in the Upper House, we needed to respond.

    "We have a system where some peoples' votes are worth six times other people's votes.

    "It is not fair and it cannot be allowed to stand."

    The Government has used the election of Daylight Saving Party MP Wilson Tucker to justify the review of the system.

    But under the changes, a party would need to secure just 2.6 per cent of the statewide vote to guarantee the election of one of its candidates.

    Change in stance after election

    Mr McGowan was asked at length before the March state election whether Labor would seek to change the Upper House system, but played down the possibility.

    The Premier repeatedly said changes were "not on our agenda", but then swiftly moved to review the system once Labor secured an Upper House majority.

    The legislation will face little resistance because of Labor's dominance in both chambers.

    Once the changes are implemented, WA will join New South Wales and South Australia as having ‘whole-of-state’ electorates for the Upper House.

    But unlike those states, all Upper House spots would be contested at every election under WA’s plans.

    The changes will also expand the size of the Upper House from 36 MPs to 37.

    Review sought electoral equality

    The expert committee, led by Malcolm McCusker QC, was tasked with providing recommendations on how "electoral equality" might be achieved for all citizens.

    Mr McCusker said the recommended changes would not necessarily lead to regional voters having less representation.

    "It depends on how people in the regional areas wish to vote," he said.

    "People in the regional areas at the moment are confined to voting for the candidates within that particular region.

    "People in the regional areas may now choose to vote […] for whoever they choose in this whole of state electorate.

    "We will be voting for a member of the Legislative Council for Western Australia.

    "How that will affect the regional voters remains to be seen."

    But advocates for the current system argue the whole of state electorate would leave regional voters underrepresented and disadvantaged.

    Electoral reform 'wrong priority': Opposition

    The WA Nationals warned throughout the state election that Labor would likely ram through electoral reform changes if it gained full control over both houses of parliament.

    Nationals MP and Opposition leader Mia Davies said the reforms would rip regional representation from the WA Parliament.

    "This Premier denied again and again prior to the election that electoral reform was not on the agenda," she said.

    "What it will do is rip regional representation from this state parliament.

    "Imagine making this your priority as a government in the midst of a pandemic, with a health crisis, a housing crisis and a skills crisis.

    "If they had any shred of decency they would shelve this report and take this to the next election so that all West Australians could have a say on what will change the electoral landscape for many generations to come."

    Mr McGowan said the reforms were overdue.

    "We didn't know at the state election that a member would be elected with 98 votes," he said.

    "Secondly, prior to the election, I had no idea … the government would have a majority in the Upper House.

    "So obviously these changes weren't something we contemplated."

    Quigley denies legislation will favour Labor

    Attorney-General John Quigley said the legislation was not biased, but instead reflected democracy.

    "I do not accept that proposition at all that these laws are designed to favour Labor," he said.

    "At the moment the quota to get [voted in] in one of the regions is about 14.5-15 per cent.

    "Under these proposed changes the quota will be reduced to about 2.7 per cent. That's the equivalent of about 45,000 voters."

    Group voting tickets scrapped

    The Ministerial Expert Committee on Electoral Reform recommended group voting tickets be abolished and replaced with optional preferential voting.

    It suggested voters would be instructed on ballot papers to mark one or more squares above the line, or mark a specified minimum number of squares below the line.

    It recommended measures be considered to manage the size and design of the ballot paper.

    The report also made a number of other recommendations including that political parties be registered at least six months prior to the general election, with a registration fee and at least 500 declared members for each party.

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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