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Numbers game wheeling and dealing

WA’S five-strong Upper House Greens contingent is turning up the heat on Electoral Affairs Minister Jim McGinty, so much so that if he’s not careful, or shrewd, both Bills making up his electoral redistribution package could end up collecting dust in the State archives.

One reason for this is that Greens MLC Dee Margetts has won her colleagues over to the view that WA’s often timid Upper House should emulate Australia’s powerful Senate. Ms Margetts was six years a senator, so experienced a fully operational powerful house of review.

Greens colleague Dr Chistine Sharp MLC has compiled a position paper calling for more regionally-based Upper House representation.

Currently the Upper House has six regions – three Metropolitan (north, south, and east); South West; Agricultural; and the huge Mining/Pastoral, covering the Goldfields, Pilbara, Kimberley and more.

The north Metropolitan region, like the South West, has seven members. The others each have five, so, 34 MPs in the Upper House to 57 in the Lower.

Mr McGinty limited his redistribution package to the Lower House by moving to relocate eight bush/outback electorates to metropolitan regions so as to achieve a balance between urban and rural voter numbers that’s closer to a one-vote-one-value formula.

It all seemed straight forward, initially.

But the Greens are now viewing Parliament in far broader ideological terms.

Dr Sharp’s paper says they accept the McGinty Lower House re-shuffle but seek Upper House reforms on diametrically opposite, that is, malaportioned, grounds.

“The Upper House should reflect a regional perspective,” her paper says.

“We propose a six by six model. It is based on six regions, as currently, with boundary adjustments where necessary to reflect the changes to Assembly seats – with six representatives each.

“That is to say that it is similar to the status quo in the current Upper House but with the important difference that it more clearly entrenches the principle of regionalism as the basis of representation in the Upper House.

“This is because each region is equal in representation, irrespective of its population numbers.”

The Greens want West Aussies to be regionally represented in their Upper House like States are in the Senate.

“Clearly WA has one of the most centralised populations anywhere in the world,” the Sharp paper continues.

“Three quarters of its entire population live in just one urban area, although the State covers one third of the continent.

“This regional perspective will help protect the voice of regional WA, to balance the dominance of the metropolitan region in the Assembly. We think this is fair for all.”

This means WA would have two extra MLCs. We could expect Mr McGinty to tub thump on that in the hope of getting voters riled.

But the Greens could press for Lower House numbers being trimmed from 57 to 55, meaning we’d stay with the same overall number of 91 MPs.

But there’s a hitch for that requires a statewide referendum, since WA’s constitution permits creating extra parliamentary spots without going to referendum, but requires one if MPs numbers are to be slashed.

It would mean getting voter backing for a strange proposal of two fewer Lower House MPs but two more Upper House ones.

Mr McGinty, if he agreed, understandably would make great play of two fewer but the number being the same.

The Greens argue WA’s bush/outback regions shouldn’t be swamped by one relatively small highly populated zone – north, south, and east Metropolitan – which is set to have 59 MPs out of 91.

The Sharp Plan would mean 59 in 93 or 57 in 91 MPs if a referendum passed.

The numerical difference is small but Greens ideology teaches the ideal model needs: “Removal of State Government altogether to be replaced with suitably sourced regional and local levels of government with boundaries which wherever possible reflect bio-regions.”

Greens see their push for six by six member Upper House regions as moving towards their ideal model.

It helps to know, and the Greens do, that Mr McGinty is quite desperate to see his package passed for several reasons.

Firstly, he’s been quite passionate about the electoral reform issue since he was an undergraduate ALP member 30 years ago.

Secondly, as Labor leader in the mid-1990s, he coaxed his party colleagues into backing his plan of taking WA’s electoral legislation to the High Court to get a ruling like that in US Justice Earle Warren’s Supreme Court, which affected American’s 50 State legislatures.

Playing the High Court card cost each Labor MPs several thousand dollars, collected by passing the cap around.

But Mr McGinty lost so didn’t enhance his reputation as a tactician.

However, if the Greens’ negotiations stick to the transition towards their “ideal model” and Mr McGinty doesn’t budge he’d have another interesting option – do a deal with Upper House Libs, like Labor did with the Nationals back in 1987.

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