18/05/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: Libs may reignite OVOV

18/05/2004 - 22:00


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THIS Saturday’s Liberal Party State Council meeting promises to be the most crucial and bitter in decades.

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: Libs may reignite OVOV

THIS Saturday’s Liberal Party State Council meeting promises to be the most crucial and bitter in decades.

Regular State Scene readers may recall the April 15 issue, McGinty’s Dream Nearer?, which highlighted that Liberal Party factional chiefs were plotting to dump certain upper house MPs.

It went on to claim that their moves were fraught with dangers they probably never fully appreciated.

Last year the Liberals and Nationals together raised $500,000 – primarily from concerned rural conservative voters – to ensure Attorney-General Jim McGinty’s one-vote-one-value (OVOV) plan never saw the light of day.

That war chest was required because judges of the High Court and WA’s Supreme Court were being called upon to adjudicate whether its passage through the upper house was constitutional.

Western Australian taxpayers paid for Mr McGinty’s legal team, which included a Sydney barrister, so Labor never needed to pass the hat around.

At stake was Mr McGinty’s plan to transfer eight lower house bush seats into metropolitan Perth.

The threat of so dramatically slashing rural MP numbers made many country Liberal and Nationals backers particularly generous.

Another reason the conservatives moved into high gear was because many saw the eight-seat shift as meaning Labor would retain government well beyond the 2009 election.

What stymied Mr McGinty was the fact that his legislation had passed the upper house with what’s called a simple majority (17 votes to 16), not an absolute majority, that is, 18 votes to 15 or better.

He was, therefore, one crucial vote short of overturning WA’s vote weighting arrangements that so favour non-metropolitan voters, and thus the Liberals and Nationals.

Because the conservatives won out in the Supreme Court and High Court they literally just pipped Mr McGinty at the tape.

Turn now to the current round of upper house endorsements, especially north metropolitan, which is represented – and will be until May 21 2005 – by George Cash, Ray Halligan and Alan Cadby.

Rumours circulating for months claimed two of them – Messrs Cash and Cadby – were being targeted by a formidable voting bloc called the ‘northern alliance’ (NA).

The NA’s plan was to put Curtin division’s chief, Peter Collier, into number one spot; Mr Halligan, number two; a five-week party member, David Clyne, at number three; and Rod Webb into fourth.

Messrs Cadby and Cash were destined for the unwinnable fifth and sixth spots, in that order.

But the NA’s plan half-backfired.

Several delegates didn’t have the heart to dump Mr Cash, a well regarded, long-time party stalwart.

Because those delegates didn’t follow the NA’s voting ticket, Mr Cash actually managed to come in ahead of Mr Collier by three preference votes. It was that close.

Mr Collier came second, Mr Halligan slipped to third, Mr Clyne to fourth and Mr Cadby pipped Mr Webb to gain the unwinnable fifth place.

Let’s return now to Saturday’s State council meeting.

This body is empowered to ratify, or otherwise, all pre-selections, and on Saturday’s agenda is a final decision on north metropolitan.

Several Cadby backers have confirmed April 15’s State Scene was on target.

Many Liberals still fear Mr McGinty’s OVOV plan and say if State council confirms the north metropolitan vote it will be taking a risk that may see the McGinty OVOV plan realised.

The reasoning goes thus … the plan lost by just one vote, 17 to 16 votes, not 18 to 15 votes or better.

This means if just one of the 16 opposing upper house members changes his or her mind, and Mr McGinty reintroduces his legislation, it would become law.

Remember also that upper house MPs remain in parliament until May 21 2005, in other words well after the next election because, unlike lower house MPs, they have fixed terms. So such legislation could be passed either this year, or up to May 21 2005, if the Gallop Government is returned.

If State council ratifies Mr Cadby’s dumping, as the NA desperately wants, the Liberal Party will be effectively saying it has no confidence in him.

This is precisely what it recently did to lower house MP, Bernie Masters, who promptly resigned from the party and intends contesting his Vasse seat as an independent.

Would Mr Cadby do something similar?

That’s a risk State councillors may or may not be prepared to take.

Remember, some of them personally dipped into their own pockets to contribute to the $500,000 anti-OVOV fighting fund to thwart Mr McGinty.

If they opt to confirm the NA’s half-backfired outcome they risk giving Mr McGinty the option of picking up his telephone to arrange a cuppa with Mr Cadby and perhaps even talking him into backing his plan.

However, since the April 15 State Scene highlighted this question another scenario has surfaced, which contends that Mr Cadby doesn’t actually need to vote for the OVOV-package for it to become law.

Because the upper house’s presiding officer – its president – doesn’t vote, Labor could offer Mr Cadby that position for his last year in parliament. That would effectively remove him from the floor of that chamber as a voting member.

Currently, Labor’s John Cowdell – an ardent OVOV backer – is president.

But if he vacated the presidency Labor would immediately and automatically have the needed 18th vote, with the Liberals and Nationals slipping to 15 – the exact numerical combination the Supreme Court and High Court ruled Mr McGinty required.

One doesn’t have to be Einstein to see State council has an interesting meeting ahead.


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