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Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: McGinty’s dream nearer?

WA’S forthcoming State election – which would normally be held in February 2005, but may be called before Christmas – will essentially be a two-way contest involving four major voter loyalty blocs (MVLBs).

The two conservative MVLBs back the Liberals and their traditional coalition partner, the smaller rural-based Nationals.

Confronting them are two left-of-center MVLBs, headed by the Labor Party with backing from their junior partners, the Greens.

Although the Democrats and One Nation will be present, both have seen much of their support base eroded with most former backers drifting to one or other of the four MVLBs.

In addition there’s another smaller and more difficult to define group on the political landscape, a fifth but weaker block, which State Scene sees as The Rebels.

This group presently has four MPs carrying either the independent Liberal or Liberals for Forests name, with all sitting in the Lower House.

Two of them are longtime South Perth MLA Phillip Pendal and Churchlands MLA Dr Liz Constable, both of whom represent swish former blue ribbon Liberal seats.

The third, Dr Janet Woollard, represents another swish Liberal seat, Alfred Cove.

Last month they were joined by a fourth member, former Liberal MLA Bernie Masters, who has vowed to re-contest his seat of Vasse as an independent having been denied Liberal endorsement.

And there’s also onetime Labor MLA, Larry Graham, who joined Rebel ranks in early 2000, after bucking Labor’s factional wheeling and dealing system by going it alone and retaining his Pilbara seat against Labor’s endorsed candidate.

Now, although Mr Pendal and Mr Graham won’t be standing at the coming election, the other three will.

Mr Masters is yet to win his seat as an independent but if he does Parliament will have three in the Rebel category.

However, before Mr Pendal and Mr Graham go and the Rebel group is cut back from five to three it could see its numbers boosted by another one, so to six.

Behind the scene machinations within Liberal circles suggest another Liberal MP may well be in for the Masters’ dis-endorsement treatment.

In this case, however, it’s likely to be an Upper, not a Lower, House MP.

And if that occurs WA’s system of weighting rural seats – what Labor calls the gerrymander, which its activist Attorney General, Jim McGinty, has so far failed to replace with a one vote one value (OVOV) system – could well be under threat of being abolished.

Such an outcome would be both dramatic and historic.

As recently outlined to State Scene the way this could happen is thus.

The Liberals are about to launch their next set of pre-selections, endorsement of Upper House candidates, meaning six contests are due for the multi-member seats of Pastoral and Mining, Agricultural, South-West and East, South and North Metropolitan.

Now, the most crucial is the last of these.

The three Liberal MPs now representing North Metropolitan are George Cash, Allan Cadby and Ray Halligan.

What’s complicating matters is that a strongman has emerged within one of the Liberal-held electoral divisions of North Metropolitan and he naturally only wants a winnable spot on the party ticket. That’s number one, two or three and preferably the first option.

That strongman is Peter Collier, president of the powerful Curtin Division.

If Mr Collier gains one of the winnable spots, as expected, one of the sitting members – Mr Cash, Mr Cadby or Mr Halligan – will slip into North Metropolitan’s unwinnable fourth spot or even lower.

In other words, one of them will have reached the end of their political career.

However, each has the recent precedent of Mr Masters before him – the option to promptly resign from the Liberal Party and become an Independent Liberal.

But note, Upper House members don’t complete their terms until May 2005, meaning the disendorsed one would be around for another year irrespective of when the election is called.

And it’s here that Mr McGinty’s OVOV plan could dramatically re-enter the picture.

Let’s be quite clear.

State Scene isn’t claiming Mr Cash, Mr Cadby or Mr Halligan have indicated that if they’re disendorsed they’ll “take their marbles home” and back Labor’s so far stymied OVOV legislation, which each has previously voted against.

No. But a change of mind by one of them as an independent is a possibility.

A rejected MP could well rationalise his position thus: “The Liberal Party has been disloyal to me – they’ve effectively disendorsed me, they’ve put a party strongman ahead of me and I’m an experienced MP – so why should I remain loyal to them?”

Remember, Mr McGinty’s OVOV legislation came before WA’s Supreme Court plus the Australian High Court.

The reason his lawyers failed to convince the judges to declare his legislation constitutional was because Labor was one – just one – tantalising vote short of having it carried by an absolute majority of the Upper House.

That one vote is precisely what could be created for Mr McGinty if Mr Collier were to win endorsement.

Interesting!

Let’s see if Mr Collier prevails, and if so how things pan out.

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