05/10/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - State to Federal an old strategy

05/10/2004 - 22:00


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Western Australia’s Labor Party is persisting in slotting State MPs into contests for Federal parliamentary seats.

Western Australia’s Labor Party is persisting in slotting State MPs into contests for Federal parliamentary seats.

Most recently State minister Tom Stephens was endorsed for Federal Kalgoorlie, following the death of Labor candidate Kevin Richards.

Earlier, former Lawrence Government minister Kay Hallahan was belatedly slotted into Federal Canning following clandestine moves against Labor’s Cimlie Bowden who was dumped.

If Mr Stephens and Mrs Hallahan prevail they’ll sit in the same Canberra caucus room as another former State Labor minister, Graham Edwards, thus making-up a WA ex-ministerial Labor trio.

Are such movements between parliaments new? And, if not, when did they begin?

State Scene initially believed they might be a relatively recent trend.

However, scanning a few history books quickly shattered that assumption.

The first State MP to go Federal was WA’s inaugural premier, John Forrest, who sat in State Parliament between 1890-1901, so from WA gaining self-government until it joined Australia’s Federation.

Forrest, who nearly became prime minister twice and was briefly acting prime minister, remained in Federal Parliament until his death in 1918.

What’s more, he was joined in 1901 by no fewer than three sitting State colleagues – Norman Ewing, Sir Alexander Matheson, and Elias Solomon.

Moving between parliaments is, therefore, as old as Federation.

Ewing and Solomon left Federal Parliament two years later – in 1903 – while Matheson stayed on until 1906.

But Matheson was joined in 1903 by another State MP, Henry Saunders, who briefly served as a Senator to again sit in WA’s parliament, between 1918-19.

Interestingly William Carpenter, a Federal MP between 1903-06, became a State member in 1911 and remained so until 1917.

Carpenter is otherwise unusual since he’d served in South Australia’s parliament between 1896-1902, before entering Federal Parliament, and later WA’s.

And Sir John Kirwan, a Federal MP with Forrest and others in that first intake, departed Federal politics in 1903, and entered State Parliament in 1908 where he remained until, wait for it, 1946.

Ewing was similar to Carpenter.

On finishing as Senator in 1902 he became a Tasmanian MP in 1909 and remained so until 1915.

WA’s Patrick Lynch was a State MP between 1904-06, became a Senator in 1907 and remained one until 1938.

Another rather like Lynch, was his close pal, Bertie Johnston.

Johnston was in WA’s Parliament from 1911-15 and again 1916-28. He moved into the Senate in 1929 where he remained until his death in 1942.

And there was another with them, Sir Hal Colebatch, who was briefly premier in 1919.

He sat in WA’s parliament between 1912-23, was a senator between 1929-33, and re-emerged in State parliament in 1940 where he remained until 1948.

And there’s also Sir Walter Kingsmill, a WA lower house MP during 1897-1903, then an upper house one from 1903-22 and a Senator between 1929 and 1942.

Kingsmill was both president of WA’s upper house and the Senate.

WA can, in fact, boast no fewer than 34 MPs who have been Federal ones, including currently sitting Greens member, Dee Margetts.

Rather than naming any more is there any benefit to electors in such moves.

State Scene believes one would be hard pressed arguing that any tangible benefits are reaped, except by the members in question.

And even that’s perhaps a doubtful proposition because, with WA’s politicians being more highly paid than Federal ones, those opting for Canberra lose a few thousand dollars annually from pay packets.

Furthermore, Federal MPs’ superannuation benefits are set to be trimmed because of Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent criticism of that scheme, which prompted Prime Minister Howard to promptly say he’d be trimming Canberra’s generosity. But these are only marginal differences when you’re in the $100,000-plus range, where you are called honorable this and honorable that, have a big staff, are chauffeur driven and flown here and there, and lots more.

It’s worth remembering that the individuals we’re considering are mere mortals, just like their voters.

If John Howard wasn’t an MP he’d be like hundreds of other high-charging Sydney lawyers, unknown beyond his family circle, a few friends and a handful of judges and law fraternity associates, and would be commuting to work on a Manly ferry.

As for Mark Latham, he’d probably still be a boisterous, overbearing and argumentative Liverpool councillor, holding down a job, thanks to the New South Wales’ Labor Right, and getting to work and back by train.

Clearly, being a Federal MP gives individuals a huge lift in perks and prestige. And they are now the primary incentives for going Federal.

Most Federal MPs see themselves as a notch or two above State counterparts.

Being national is seen as far more prestigious than being a mere State MP.

That probably explains why former Labor premier Carmen Lawrence opted for Canberra and why her predecessor, Brian Burke, was eyeing-off that option until encountering the WA Inc Royal Commission.

It also helps explain why Premier Geoff Gallop is eyeing off Canberra.

None of WA’s more recent State parliamentary departures for Canberra, or those who have gone the other way for seconds for that matter, has made contributions that can be judged as having been impressive.

This is in contrast to Forrest and senators Colebatch and Johnston who both doggedly combated pre-World War II Labor’s protracted and determined efforts to further centralise Australian political life.

Indeed, Labor, during those years, actually wanted to abolish the States, break them up into smaller Canberra-controlled provinces, with WA to be split into no fewer than four Canberra-administered units and the Kimberley hived-off and merged into a larger Canberra-controlled Northern Territory.

Coincidentally, biographies of Colebatch and Johnston are about to be published so their dogged defence of WA’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will soon be available for readers to study and hopefully learn something from.


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