03/09/2008 - 22:00

Minor parties could be major players

03/09/2008 - 22:00


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The battle between Alan Carpenter and Colin Barnett may be dominating the media during this election campaign, but it could be the minor parties that end up holding the aces in the new government.

The battle between Alan Carpenter and Colin Barnett may be dominating the media during this election campaign, but it could be the minor parties that end up holding the aces in the new government.

The Greens (WA) have publicly stated that the party's goal in this election is to maintain the balance of power in the upper house, a position it has held for more than a decade.

The Nationals (WA) are also targeting the balance of power in the new government, providing leverage to push for the party's Royalties for Regions policy, which would commit 25 per cent of the state's mining royalties to regional and rural projects.

Professor of politics at Edith Cowan University, Peter van Onselen, said the Greens were more likely to secure the balance of power in the upper house, while the Nationals were not without a chance in the lower house.

"The Greens could have a profound impact on the state if they gain the balance on power in the upper house, particularly if there's a Liberal government," Professor van Onselen said.

"A Liberal government would be more likely to face Labor and Green opposition to business-friendly legislation.

"If you have Labor in power and the Greens in the upper house, it's less of a concern for business."

"If Labor looks like getting legislation through the upper house with Liberal support, then the Greens become irrelevant."

"If the Liberals block Labor in the upper house then the Greens will be the deciding force."

Professor van Onselen said the Nationals would be well leveraged to push for a better deal for the regions by not forming a coalition and instead remaining a swing party.

"[The opportunity] for the National Party to play a role in the upper house looks to be limited," he said.

"Their best bet is to run for the balance of power in the lower house, and that's a real possibility in a close electoral race."

If they secure the balance of power in the upper house, The Greens have vowed to ensure Labor's proposed legislative ban on uranium mining in WA becomes a reality, and that the ban is comprehensive. Equally, the party will block attempts to allow uranium mining by a Liberal government.

The Greens will also push for greater development of renewable energy in WA through the creation of a solar hub in Bunbury, and for solar payments to be extended beyond households to encourage industrial-scale solar projects in the state.

The solar hub proposal involves developing a large-scale manufacturing facility for solar photovoltaic-grade silicon alongside Simcoa's Kemerton smelter, one of the biggest in the world.

The party said a demonstration plant could be set up in the first instance, at a cost of $20 million, before upgrading to a commercial-scale plant, which would consume roughly 1,000 tonnes of silicon a year, at a cost of $200 million to $300 million.

Greens MLC Giz Watson said the party was hopeful of having four or even five members in the upper house.

"It depends on how the numbers break up, whether you have the balance in your own right or it's shared," she said.

The party's preferences, with a few exceptions, including Cockburn and Kimberley, will go to Labor.

Ms Watson said business voters had no reason to be concerned over a Greens balance of power in the upper house.

"I ran a small business for 12 years. We're well aware of the challenges and opportunities with small business," she said.

Ms Watson told WA Business News The Greens would call for a small business summit to look at better ways of operating small businesses in the state, and would aim to simplify the tax system to assist small business owners.

The Nationals will be focused on significant investments in regional development projects from the more than $2 billion in mining royalties paid to the state government.

The party says it will use its voting power to ensure that essential workers are offered housing incentives to work in the regions, providing subsidised and free rental housing to teachers, nurses, police officers and other key government workers.

The Nationals want to introduce an exploration incentive scheme, with initiatives including $20 million a year to subsidise drilling costs and streamline approvals, and the introduction of a flow-through share scheme.

It also wants to use mining royalties to fund a special air transport subsidy scheme to help improve air passenger services to Geraldton, Esperance, Albany and other regional airports.

WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls said the major parties were engaged in a wild spend-fest, describing the plan for a billion dollar expansion of the urban passenger rail service to Ellenbrook as "another metro-centric indulgence".

"The Nationals have been campaigning the royalties policy for two years," he said.

"We don't think it's asking too much when the government's dropping $1 billion on the table for people who don't want to drive three suburbs to get on a train," he said.

Mr Grylls said the key big-ticket items on the party's agenda included the Ord stage 2, underground power in the Pilbara, and providing for an untied grants scheme for local governments to allocate money to areas of greatest need.



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