16/11/2004 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Labor shops for referendum votes

16/11/2004 - 21:00


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Does Geoff Gallop’s surprise decision to call a two-part shopping hours referendum for election day show that Western Australia, at long last, has a democratically inclined premier?

Does Geoff Gallop’s surprise decision to call a two-part shopping hours referendum for election day show that Western Australia, at long last, has a democratically inclined premier?

Dr Gallop and Labor master strategist, Jim McGinty, have known for quite some time that they faced a formidable task in being re-elected.

First there was early October’s Howard electoral phenomenon and the emergence of the conservative-oriented Family First Party, whose views and commitments are largely anathema to hard core Laborites, followed, within a month, by the re-election of US President George W Bush.

It appeared voters were increasingly turning towards conservative candidates and values.

Overlaying this was the fact that Gallop-led Labor was performing badly in the polls.

Remember that WA Labor had won power in February 2001 with only 37 per cent of the statewide vote.

And the latest Westpoll showed high-taxing Labor commanding below that – just 36 per cent – in the wake of the Howard-Bush victories.

Moreover, the Liberals, despite being headed by the bland and uninspiring Colin Barnett, had suddenly found themselves well ahead of Labor.

The conservatives had 42 per cent backing in the same poll, whereas in February 2001 they’d scored only 34 per cent of the statewide vote.

That dismal performance was due primarily to the fact that the conservative One Nation had scored a hefty 9.6 per cent, with many of their backers preferencing to Labor.

The Gallop-McGinty duo, therefore, knew what had occurred since February 2001 was that the Barnett-led conservatives had bounced back not because of anything Mr Barnett had done but rather because One Nation’s 9.6 per cent had largely returned to a larger conservative fold.

Clearly Labor had to do something dramatic, something that would help distinguish it from the conservatives. And it had to do it fast.

A new and popular factor simply had to be tossed into the political ring so voters would, hopefully, distinguish between them and the conservatives on election day.

Labor and Chamber of Commerce polling shows most voters favoured removal of restrictions on free trade through WA’s antiquated regulating of shopping hours.

Fortunately for Labor the Barnett-led Liberals continued to doggedly back current restrictions that severely restrain such trade.

Clearly, here was an opportunity worth exploiting electorally.

What finally convinced the Gallop-McGinty duo into adopting the shopping hours referendum ploy was the fact that 11 American states had held referendums on presidential election day on the so-called same sex marriage issue.

Those referendums reminded Democrat and Republican voters alike that President Bush opposed that proposal whereas the Democrats – who increasingly look like a ‘rainbow alliance’ – were split and wavering on it.

A similar wedging ploy that isolated WA’s conservative challengers was therefore worth emulating – and that’s precisely what’s being done with the shopping hours issue.

In other words, it would be quite incorrect to now regard Dr Gallop as being a democratically-oriented premier.

He’s not that; not by a long shot.

What he is is a man who is desperate to be returned to power for another term before launching his career as a Federal Labor MP.

However, with that said it’s worth noting that Dr Gallop wasn’t always such a calculating political creature.

On the contrary, there was a time when he genuinely favoured the democratic approach.

Unfortunately that proved to be a short-lived phase in his political career.

Long-term readers may recall State Scene highlighting, on March 28 2002 (The difference between a promise and a ‘promise’), Dr Gallop’s dishonoring of an undertaking to call a referendum on whether WA voters wanted to elect State governors rather than having vice-regals selected for them by premiers and Buckingham Palace, as presently happens.

That undertaking came hard on the heels of Dr Gallop’s quite dogged and admirable efforts at the 1998 Federal Constitutional Convention to try and ensure Australian presidents were elected by the people, not just by politicians.

In other words, when Dr Gallop was Labor leader in Opposition he was a democratically-oriented individual.

He believed the people should have a direct say in devising laws, rather than having them imposed on the nation by a tiny political elite – politicians.

He demonstrated this again on April 19 2000, before a group of journalists, when he announced that he’d call a referendum when premier on how Western Australians would have future governors selected – democratically or politically.

Unfortunately that period in Dr Gallop’s political career was short-lived – very short-lived – because, on becoming premier in February 2001, he promptly reneged and became a political man.

Because of that State Scene was prompted to highlight his move into an anti-democratic position.

On reading that column former One Nation MLC, Frank Hough, quizzed the Government about Dr Gallop’s failure to give the people a chance to have a say on who became governor of WA, as he had promised less than a year earlier.

Labor’s upper house leader, Kim Chance, responded to Mr Hough’s query on Dr Gallop’s behalf.

“I thank the member for some notice of this question,” Mr Chance said.

 “In April 2000 the Premier did flag the idea of a new system to elect the Governor.

“However, it was clear that the public believed this was not a priority issue and, as such, the Government has no plans to hold a referendum.”

So a promise – one that could have resulted in the people democratically choosing State governors – was cynically downgraded to merely the flagging of an idea.

Hardly the conduct of someone dedicated to real democracy, people power.

Furthermore, Dr Gallop has never shown himself to favour the ultimate policy that would ensure WA became a real democracy.

He’s never backed introduction of Citizen Initiated Referendum (CIR); that is, giving people the power to call referendums on what laws they wished or did not wish to live under.

Why? It’s very simple. Because he wants only politicians – Politician Initiated Referendums – to hold the power to call such votes, and only when its suits politicians.

And that’s precisely what he’s done now by calling the two-part shopping hours referendum.

That decision is, therefore, far from a sign of a commitment to the democratic process.

It’s simply an example of the desperate and cynical use of the referendum power to help ensure Labor remains in government.

Nothing more and nothing less.


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