EFFORTS to introduce daylight saving (DLS) into WA have failed at three referendums – in 1975, 1984 and 1992 – having been initiated by premiers Sir Charles Court for the liberals, and Brian Burke and Carmen Lawrence for Labor, respectively.
Few, however, realise that former WA Labor MHR Ron Edwards came remarkably close to having WA adopting DLS.
State Scene reassesses this controversial and divisive issue because Kalgoorlie Liberal MLA Matt Birney, recently straw polled State MPs informally and found overwhelming backing for DLS despite WA’s three referendums, which failed by just 3.7, 4.4 and 3.1 per cent.
Mr Birney wants Premier Geoff Gallop to call another referendum since Dr Gallop, in 1999, undertook to introduce a private members DLS bill because so many were inconvenienced by the summer time difference between WA and eastern Australia.
The organisation that knows most about DLS is the Sydney-based National Standards Commission, especially its Dr Richard Brittain, secretary of Australia’s National Time Committee.
Dr Brittain said William Willett, a British builder and Royal Astronomical Society Fellow, began promoting DLS in 1907.
“Willett proposed to transfer some of the wasted daylight hours in the morning to the evening period with the proposed benefits of additional time for recreation, reduced crime and energy savings due to the reduced need for artificial light,” Dr Brittain said.
“The scheme was ridiculed and met with considerable opposition, particularly from farming interests, and attempts to introduce it were defeated until World War I.”
During that conflict the Allies, including Australia, adopted DLS as a wartime economic measure with Australia repeating it during World War II.
Interestingly, WA broke ranks by not implementing DLS from October 3 1943 to March 26 1944.
Dr Brittain said 1967 was the crucial year, with Tasmania experiencing a severe drought that affected hydropower generation.
“Tasmania’s Government introduced one hour of daylight saving from the last Sunday of October to the first Sunday of March as a means of saving power, and hence water,” he said.
“Tasmanians reacted favourably to daylight saving and their government has declared daylight saving each summer since 1968.
“After persuasion by the Tasmanian Government, all States (except WA and the Northern Territory) passed legislation in 1971, for a trial season of daylight saving.
“The following year NSW, South Australia and Victoria joined Tasmania for regular daylight saving.
“Queensland, however, decided to maintain standard time during summer months.”
Western Australians have been evenly split, with MPs who fear this issue looking to the democratic option, referendum.
After WA’s 1975 referendum the DLS issue nationally became complex, with some States adopting it, others extending or changing its times, and so on.
These were the years when Australia’s traditional time differences went haywire, giving rise to four summer times.
It was this tic-toc hodge-podge, which impacts so adversely upon business, that prompted Mr Edwards to seek continental standardisation.
Crucially, he realised Australia’s Constitution, under Section 51 (15), gave Canberra power over weights and measures, with time clearly falling into the latter category.
For reasons not yet fully explained Canberra hasn’t sought to exert its authority in this area.
Dr Brittain said: “In response to the problems caused by such non-uniformity, a private members bill, the National Measurement (Standard Time) Amendment Bill 1991 was introduced into Federal Parliament in May 1991 by Ron Edwards.
“If enacted this bill would have clearly established Commonwealth responsibility for civil time, as provided for in the Constitution.
“The bill would have defined a national system of time zones for Australia and its external territories and provided for DLS to be set by regulation after consultation with the premiers and chief ministers of the States and Territories.
“In early March 1992 the Federal Government determined it would not proceed with the bill, and accordingly the setting of time zones and daylight saving will remain the responsibility of State and Territory Governments.
“The lack of uniformity of daylight saving in Australia continues to cause significant problems for transport and communication organisations.
“It also reduces the number of hours in the working day that are common to all centres in the country.
“In particular, time differences along the east coast causes major difficulties, especially for the broadcasters of national radio and television that can only be partly overcome by substantial capital investments.”
Mr Edwards told State Scene his move faltered only because maverick Queenslander, the late Senator Mal Colson, campaigned against it.
Under the Edwards DLS plan, Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn would be divided into two summer time zones – Eastern and Western Standard Time – with Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane within the former and Perth and WA within the latter.
Centres above the 23rd parallel would be unaffected because they’re so close to the equator that adjusting time makes little difference.
Mr Edwards said he envisaged remote communities such as Kalgoorlie and Albany having a local option to determine if they desired it, like Western Central Time applying along the line between Rawlina and Tarcoola.
His plan wouldn’t have satisfied everyone but would certainly have removed summer time confusion that’s persisted for so long after Federation.
Perhaps Mr Birney would be wiser lobbying WA’s Federal MPs, not Dr Gallop and State colleagues, to bring about what William Willett first promoted 96 years ago, and most Western Australians have so far resisted.
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