14/08/2015 - 05:57

Nationals push for more MPs

14/08/2015 - 05:57

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The Nationals have gone against the grain to call for more seats in the upper house.

Nationals push for more MPs
BIGGER BILLS: More MPs would only add to the financial pressure on Mike Nahan. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The Nationals have gone against the grain to call for more seats in the upper house.

You've got to hand it to the WA Nationals, who were quick to pounce after the electoral redistribution commissioners recommended the abolition of a regional seat in the Legislative Assembly, and creation of a new outer metropolitan one.

Their response was to call for an additional four members in the assembly, taking representation from 59 to 63. The expectation would be that the majority of the extra seats would be regional.

The rationale for this suggestion was that Nationals leader Terry Redman believes regional Western Australia is being ‘done over’, and representation has to increase.

The electoral commissioners are obliged to regularly review the boundaries of the assembly electorates, taking into account population movements based on Gallop government legislation, which did away with country seats having fewer voters than in the metropolitan area. In essence, based on the principle of ‘one vote, one value’.

Mr Redman correctly told ABC News that the state’s population had increased by 200,000 over the past 10 years, asserting that more MPs were needed to adequately service their needs.

He conceded it was too late to move on the extra seats for the election due in 2017, with change by the 2021 poll being identified as the target.

So at a time when the state is strapped for cash, and a debate is raging about the abuse of MPs entitlements – albeit at the federal level – voters will be asked to endorse even more politicians.

But do we need more MPs? In addition to the lower house, WA has 36 members in the Legislative Assembly, the ‘house of review’. The last increase for the assembly occurred for the 1989 election, when two seats were added.

Communications have improved markedly since then; in fact the internet has revolutionised how we interact. And what about mobile phones? In fact, thanks to these advances – and the revolution will continue – there might be a case for having fewer MPs, not more.

Certainly there would be an appetite in the electorate for such a cut, considering the shenanigans of recent weeks in Canberra.

Given the salaries of MPs, plus add-ons like electoral allowances and the costs of offices and staff, the impact on the budget would only add to Treasurer Mike Nahan’s headaches.

But these matters don’t seem to worry the Nationals. Not only are they wallowing in redistribution of $1 billion annually through the Royalties for Regions fund, they also, with Liberal support, voted to allocate almost $1 million to a campaign to tell country voters how the money was being spent.

Apparently the MPs lacked the capacity to do that themselves while doing the rounds in their electorates, including at branch and community meetings, and in media engagements.

Mr Redman would be on stronger ground if he suggested that the assembly be expanded in return for a reduction in upper house representation – a sort of cost-neutral option.

Some MLCs earn their keep. Others operate simply as organisers for their parties, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Tonkin rues a lack of courage

GIVEN all the turbulence and subsequent fallout associated with the Labor government led by Brian Burke between 1983 and 1988, it’s remarkable that so many ministers have been reluctant to speak critically about those years.

But now, 29 years after he surprisingly quit the ministry, Arthur Tonkin has become the first of the Burke team to break his silence about that government’s modus operandi during the WA Inc years. And it’s not flattering.

“What should have been a proud achievement helping to form a government which capped a good portion of a lifetime of honest endeavour, turned out to be one of shame,” Mr Tonkin writes in his new book The Fearful Optimist – a memoir.

“Many are faced with that legacy, robbed of their reputation. When asked to which government they belonged, former ministers have to admit the information, with an ashamed face while defending their own probity.”

Mr Tonkin, who was a high school senior master before entering politics in 1971, said the Burke government achieved major reforms, such as the abolition of capital punishment. But there were also significant flaws.

“There were one or two ministers who seemed to worship power as a means of financial and egotistical aggrandisement,” he writes.

“This, whether because of perception or reality, had a disproportionate effect on the total effectiveness of the cabinet, which is a well-known phenomenon in history.”

Mr Tonkin said pre-meeting leaks to the media sometimes compromised cabinet decisions. He doesn’t say it, but Burke frequently orchestrated these.

Referring to his cabinet colleagues, Mr Tonkin said: “There were some who lacked the courage to say ‘wait a bit’! Perhaps for some, staying in office was more important than the job they had sworn to do.

“I would single out the lack of courage by ministers as our chief failing.”


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