03/08/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Gallop to face tough time

03/08/2004 - 22:00


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Last week State Scene outlined the likely outcome of the forthcoming State election, which Premier Geoff Gallop will call for sometime between October 2004 and February 2005.

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Gallop to face tough time

Last week State Scene outlined the likely outcome of the forthcoming State election, which Premier Geoff Gallop will call for sometime between October 2004 and February 2005.

Unless there is another mass prisoner breakout or a major Western Power blackout over those months Labor looks assured of another term.

And this is despite Attorney-General Jim McGinty’s failure to make WA’s electoral system less discriminatory against Labor by scrapping rural voter weighting which favours the conservatives.

That said it’s important to note WA’s parliamentary arrangement has an in-built check against parties that gain lower house majorities and thereby forming governments.

Because governments are formed in the lower house some assume the upper house is somehow inferior, whereas the opposite is the case as former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam discovered in 1975 when underestimating his Federal equivalent.

Put differently, the upper house is where the legislative action is while the lower house is where antics and much huffing-and-puffing are vented.

The lower house after election day, once the winners of half plus one of its 57-seats are known, has no practical legislative purpose or value since premiers, cabinets and thus majority parties can initiate whatever legislation they like with the minority side unable to block or modify anything, making the lower house a rubber stamp.

What counters such rubber-stamping becoming law is the upper house where no single party can gain complete control because it is elected under a proportional representation voting system (PRVS) so that various minority groups not recognised in the lower house acquire representatives.

That inevitably compels a government – lower house majority – to do deals with diverse upper house majorities that may be comprised of several minorities, otherwise its legislation is stymied.

Uncompromising governments simply make sure their legislation remains doomed.

Consider the present situation in this powerful chamber and what’s likely to happen after May 2005 when its newly-elected and re-elected members take their seats.

Currently Labor has 13 MPs, the Greens five, so 18, or one more than half that Chamber’s 34-members with one of these a non-voting president.

However, the remaining 17 Labor/Greens still outnumber the 16 conservatives made up of 12 Liberals, three ex-One Nationers (John Fischer, Frank Hough and Paddy Embry), each having left that party, and one National.

The point to note is that neither Labor nor the Liberals, under this chamber’s PRVS, can gain outright control of it, in marked contrast to the lower house.

What must be recalled is that the Greens gained their determining five-seat position last election because conservative-oriented One Nation preferenced them ahead of Liberals and Nationals, since the conservative camp was bitterly split over Queenslander Pauline Hanson’s programs.

The Greens consequently gained an Agricultural seat (Dee Margetts) and a Mining/Pastoral one (Robin Chapple).

If that hadn’t occurred both those seats would now be held by conservatives – Nationals or Liberals.

Although the three ex-One Nationers will contest their seats they’ll be doing so under different conservative banners and may be returned, a prospect neither Ms Margetts and Mr Chapple faces.

But even if the three aren’t returned all their spots are likely to be taken over by other conservatives.

In Ms Margetts’ case a National is likely to take over while in Mr Chapple’s it may be Labor or Mr Fischer. If the latter it’s a conservative gain.

However, the Greens are likely to win an East Metropolitan seat so their numbers won’t slip from five to three, only to four.

But that metropolitan Greens gain will be from Labor ranks, so not a net boost to the Labor/Greens side.

Because such outcomes are likely State Scene has concluded the next upper house will be either 18 conservatives – if Mr Fischer not a Labor candidate gains Mr Chapples’ spot – to 16 Labor/Greens, or 17 conservatives and 17 Labor/Greens if Labor displaces Mr Chapple.

The best the Labor/Greens alliance can therefore expect is 17 MPs, one less than now, or 18-16 the conservative way if Mr Fischer, not a Labor candidate, wins.

The likely outcome for the six multi-member upper house seats is :

  • North Metropolitan; no change, so three Liberals, three Labor and one Greens;
  • South Metropolitan; no change so two Liberals, two Labor and one Greens;
  • East Metropolitan; two Liberals, two Labor and one Greens, who’ll replace the third Labor;
  • But there will be changes in the three non-metropolitan seats;
  • South-West; three Liberals, two Labor, and one Green. Like North Metropolitan, South-West has seven MPs and the last spot will be a neck-and-neck tussle between ex-One Nationer Paddy Embry and the Nationals, meaning whoever wins it’s still conservative. With the Greens set to lose Ms Margetts in Agricultural and Mr Chapple in Mining/Pastoral the burning question is who displaces them;
  • Agricultural; two Liberals, one National and one Labor with Ms Margetts’ fifth spot a tussle between ex-One Nationer Frank Hough or a National so another conservative gain; and
  • Mining/Pastoral; two Labor, two Liberals and a tussle for the fifth crucial spot, now held by Mr Chapple, between sitting ex-One Nationer Mr Fischer and Labor

Nothing would change overall if Labor displaced Mr Chapple but the conservatives would gain if Mr Fischer wins.

Although all three ex-One Nationers may lose their seats each would be replaced by conservatives – Liberal or Nationals – meaning a 17-each breakdown.

That means a net loss of one Green a virtual certainty, and resulting in 17-each for Labor/Greens and the conservatives.

But if Mr Fischer, not Labor, wins Mr Chapple’s place it’s 18 to the conservatives, 16 to Labor/Greens, an exact reversal of the present upper house configuration.

Either outcome means Dr Gallop faces a hostile upper house, since his side with a 17-all outcome must provide the non-voting president.

But if the conservatives win 18 they’ll want to provide the president and would still be capable of outvoting the Labor/Greens 17-16, thereby again enforcing that chamber’s legislative supremacy.


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