Liberals fear next premier still a teen

They fear they may be facing an extended period in Opposition due to the Upper House’s one-vote-one-value imbroglio, now before five Supreme Court judges.

If the judges smile on defendant, Attorney General Jim McGinty, they fear Labor Governments may go on uninterrupted well into next decade.

Why such pessimism when most governments can’t leap the two-term barrier?

The reason is that, if McGinty-style redistribution eventuates, it’s felt the figures won’t stack-up for the conservatives because of Perth’s demographic make-up and distribution.

With governments formed in the 57-seat Lower House, 29 must be won.

The McGinty voting formula stemming from a favourable Supreme Court ruling would leave just 15 seats outside the Perth metropolitan area.

At least four would be Labor’s – Kimberley, Pilbara, Kalgoorlie, and one possibly called Gascoyne.

These outback-mining regions al-so encompass many Aboriginal communities, ensuring Labor ascendancy.

Of the remaining 11, one covering the Collie-Bunbury strip and another based on Mandurah are also likely to be Labor’s.

The remaining nine should split between Liberals and Nationals, 7-2 or 6-3, covering the Geraldton-Mid West region; Esperance-south east, Albany and hinterland, Busselton-Leeuwin peninsular, Bunbury, Central Wheatbelt; Northern Agricultural, Manjimup and environs, and Mandurah’s surrounds.

So it’s Labor with six towards the needed 29, conservatives nine.

But how are the remaining 42 metropolitan seats likely to split?

Labor must win 23, the Liberals just 20. It’s here Liberal strategists see grave problems that may become protracted, meaning several successive lost elections.

Liberals, in good times, rely on Perth’s hills or eastern gum tree suburbs and a strip surrounding the Swan-Canning River estuaries from South Perth and Shelley to Bicton to fall their way, followed by another strip from Fremantle eastwards towards Crawley.

The further one moves from the estuaries, northwards and south-wards, the greater the likelihood of encountering urban Labor-voting concentrations.

Liberals also dominate the relatively narrow coastal strip from North Fremantle towards Wanneroo.

But the further one moves inland from the northern beaches, the more Labor-voting concentrations are encountered.

The question is, therefore, are the river-coastal-hills strips – metropolitan Liberal heartland – extensive enough to consistently provide 20 or more Liberal seats?

Several Liberals think it’s too many to snare in foreseeable years.

The second Court Government held 12 of these river-coastal-hills seats. Barnett Liberals only have seven.

But the McGinty plan moves eight bush seats into Perth, meaning the Liberals will consistently need to win many more seats beyond their river-coastal-hills heartland strips.

That’s why the Barnett Liberals simply must court non-Labor inde-pendents Phil Pendal, Liz Constable and Janet Woollard, all Liberal heartland seatholders.

Without them it’s au revoir to non-Labor administrations. Even with the three it’s likely to be too tough in forthcoming elections.

All river-hugging suburbs east of South Perth and Crawley are Labor’s. And Labor can count on holding all seats roughly east of Mitchell Freeway (in parts even west of it); south of Leach Highway; and east and west of Albany Highway – a huge expanse of Perth.

A cursory glance at a suburban map shows the Labor area far exceeding the Liberal river-coastal-hills heartland strips.

The Liberal areas, incidentally, include where those owning spec-tacular river and ocean view blocks live, and who were targeted by the Gallop-Ripper premium property tax, showing Labor’s love of tax dollars and disregard – some say envy – for anyone sitting on pricey dirt.

However, is this metropolitan overview the basis of several more Labor Governments?

Various seat distribution maps have been drawn-up showing quite bleak Liberal outlooks.

True, politics is uncertainty writ large. But the vastness of the Labor-supporting metropolitan expanse, which so greatly exceeds the Liberal river-coastal-hills strips, means it’s difficult to discount mounting Liberal pessimism.

For decades WA’s conservatives counted on the many relatively under-populated rural seats to ensure Perth’s Labor areas were countered by vote weighting favouring the bush.

It’s worth remembering that two Labor MPs – Arthur Tonkin and Mal Bryce – pioneered Mr McGinty’s current one-vote-one-value campaign from the early 1970s to dismantle rural favoritism.

Though they’d naturally say they did this because of a belief in fairness – “legislators represent people not acres or trees”, to quote US Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren’s famous dictum – the fact is it removes the present conservative advantage.

So, it’s been a case of both sides being on a good thing and doggedly sticking to it. Let’s not forget this when judging Mr McGinty and his conservatives opponents.

If most conservative MPs hadn’t believed that, they’d have embraced one vote one value decades ago and we wouldn’t have had to endure Labor interminably going on about this dull but crucial issue.

And several costly High Court and Supreme Court challenges to legislation that weighs votes in favour of the bush would never have been launched.

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