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Embry wants it put to the people

CAPITAL punishment is an old chestnut if ever there was one.

Thankfully it was scrapped by Burke-led Labor with the Acts Amendment (Abolition of Capital Punishment) Act 1984.

All secondary school debaters have, at some stage, argued either the affirmative or negative case, or both.

Despite this, debate on this chestnut resurfaces from time to time, as it recently did when One Nation MP Paddy Embry alerted a Bunbury newspaper that he plan-ned moving for a referendum calling for its reintroduction.

On receiving Mr Embry’s statement the newspaper contacted another local member, Liberal de-puty Dan Sullivan, whose Mitchell electorate includes parts of Bunbury plus environs.

Mr Sullivan never disclosed his view on capital punishment but promptly said he’d certainly back such a referendum.

Anyone who knows him and is aware of his enviable electoral record could have predicted that response.

He’s one of a tiny band of State MPs that believes in extending democracy, meaning going to the people on contentious issues; that is, holding referendums.

Contrary to the assumptions of some journalists, the issue Mr Embry raised and Mr Sullivan responded to wasn’t essentially about capital punishment, but rather the people’s right to having a direct say – referendums – on laws they live under.

Mr Sullivan strongly believes in Swiss style citizen-initiated referendums (CIR); in other words, referendums being triggered by voter petitions, not by politicians.

That’s something of a thorny issue for most MPs because they see CIRs as threatening their power, which, quite frankly and thankfully, they do.

But Mr Sullivan says that it’s good that CIRs would swing power towards the people.

He wants CIRs adopted as soon as possible so WA’s parliament becomes more democratic, more responsive and more voter-oriented.

Interestingly, WA’s One Nation MPs – John Fischer, Frank Hough, and Paddy Embry – share this admirable democratic sentiment.

But that’s about it; four in a 91-strong parliament. If there are others, they’ve certainly hidden it well.

When a metropolitan media outlet did a ring-around after the Bunbury newspaper reached the stands it contacted 28 Liberal MPs.

Only seven backed giving people a direct say on capital punishment.

Eleven opposed and, sure enough, Opposition leader Colin Barnett was among these.

Ten wouldn’t say or were “unavailable for comment”.

Even if that 10 split evenly the Liberals would be 16-12 against people getting a democratic or direct say on this issue.

Nothing to write home about.

Interestingly, writers of the newspaper’s follow-up articles didn’t bother contacting Labor MPs.

The reporters, undoubtedly, concluded it would be a waste of time, since they (Labor MPs) invariably toe their party’s line, so it’s not a question of whether to jump or not, but rather, how high.

But the beauty of referendums – especially citizen initiated ones – is that they settle issues for once and for all.

The fact is that those on a losing side must eventually say to themselves: “The majority of my fellow citizens don’t agree”.

And that’s the end of the matter.

Without referendums certain issues become chestnuts, drag on, fester, and keep resurfacing, such as capital punishment.

But there’s another reason to be astonished at Mr Barnett’s shortsighted blocking stand, which relates to his known strong desire to become premier.

If he and his unimaginative tactical council took time out they’d have noticed Mr Sullivan at the last election boosted his voter support by five percentage points, whereas adjacent defeated Bunbury Liberal MLA, Ian Osborne, was tossed out with a 7 per cent swing.

That’s a 12 per cent difference between Mr Sullivan and Mr Osborne when the Court-Barnett-led Liberals were decimated.

Now, the thing about a society like Switzerland, where CIRs have existed since the 1870s, is that politicians must constantly consult voters to ensure legislation is backed, because if voters dislike laws politicians impose on them, the people can and do throw those laws out.

The Swiss have people’s democracy, and CIRs are a powerful catalyst for their politicians to listen to the people – to treat them like sovereigns rather than subjects.

Mr Sullivan not only believes in CIRs and tells Mitchell electors he wants them for WA, he’s already working across his seat as if CIRs were actually in place.

Current polling shows Mr Barnett is going to have a hard time dislodging Geoff Gallop from the State’s top job.

So he and his tactical council would be wise to look closely at what happened in Mitchell and isolate the direct and indirect roles played by CIRs on that outcome, which was so well fostered by his deputy.

Who knows, if Mr Barnett made CIRs a Liberal election plank it may even help him repeat the Mitchell phenomenon statewide, thereby making him premier, and, in the process driving Gallop-Labor’s regimented MPs into a tizz.

They’d have to start thinking for themselves and take serious note of constituents’ views, rather than being experts at obeying their party’s bizarre powerbrokers and caucus’s dictates.

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