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Numbers stack up for electoral redistribution

ELECTORAL distribution remains a difficult issue whichever political side is in power in WA.

The over-arching reason is that WA is one third of Australia – about three times the size of Texas – and unevenly populated.

WA’s relatively tiny urban zone, the Perth metropolitan area, is a near isosceles triangle stretching 100 or so kilometres from Two Rocks to Mandurah and across from both, towards Mundaring.

Within this generally lawn-green coastal (or Sandgroper) triangle live nearly 900,000 voters.

The rest – the remaining huge rural-outback zone – includes the bronze brown Kimberly, Pilbara, Goldfields, and Murchi-son/Gas-coyne, golden Wheatbelt and green South West regions.

Each of the huge first five regions is, or approaches, the size of Victoria.

Together, the six regions of the huge rural-outback zone have slightly more than 300,000 voters, one-third of those in the territorially tiny Sandgroper urban zone.

On a one-vote-one-value formula the breakdown of the 57 Lower House electorates would thus be three to one favouring the Perth metropolitan area, whereas it’s presently three to two.

Electoral Affairs Minister Jim McGinty’s plan is to bring about a shift in electorates, from the present 3-2 to 3-1 in the Sandgroper urban zone’s favour.

To do this, eight rural-outback seats must go and re-emerge as urban seats, meaning the equivalent of three areas as large as Texas will lose eight seats for assignment to the more heavily populated but relatively tiny Sandgroper, or Two Rocks-Mandurah-Mundaring, triangle.

Mr McGinty says he backs one vote one value.

However, he doesn’t actually believe this in practice for, of the eight rural-outback seats to be scrapped for inclusion into the triangle, three should vanish from the outback regions.

But he proposes scrapping just two seats, meaning he believes that where Labor votes are strongest – Kimberley, Pilbara, Murchison and Goldfields – one vote one value goes out the window.

It’s a contradiction – principle not aligning with practice.

The remaining six doomed rural-outback seats earmarked for scrapp-ing and inclusion into the urban, or Perth Sandgroper, triangle are from the farming Wheatbelt and the South West regions, where Labor’s support is weakest.

That’s handier than dumping the one-vote-one-value principle in the outback regions.

Although there’s no guaranteeing that the intended new eight urban seats will all turn to Labor, the odds are they, or most, will be more easily won by Labor than if they’d remained in the Wheatbelt and South West, other things being equal.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem facing the conservatives – the Liberals, with their big rural elect-oral wing, and the Nationals, who are exclusively farming based.

Mr McGinty, however, can basically do what he wishes because Labor has the majority in the Lower House and, with the Greens, in the Upper House.

The Liberals, Nationals, and, let’s not forget, One Nation – which, incidentally, handed the Greens Upper House control through Pauline Hanson’s preferences approach – can cry foul, hold rallies, whatever.

Last election’s parliamentary arithmetic means Mr McGinty can make the electorate proportions shift 3-1 from 3-2 towards the territorially miniscule but heavily populated urban coastal Sandgroper triangle.

All the evidence indicates that’s exactly what he’ll have done by Christmas, with the Greens ensuring his legislation passes the Upper House.

WA’s 2001 redistribution is set to, if not guarantee that Labor wins the next election, at least more firmly ensconce Labor in power than if there was no McGinty-style redistribution.

Labor’s last redistribution, which came about following a deal with former Nationals leader Hendy Cowan, saved it at the crucial 1989 election where Liberal leader Barry MacKinnon won 52.4 per cent of the statewide two party vote but Labor Premier Peter Dowding held on.

Something similar may well happen at election 2005.

But there’s nothing to be gained sitting around griping and bemoan-ing this if you’re a rural or outback romantic, which Mr McGinty most certainly is not.

He’s a hardheaded numbers man, ready to accommodate peripheral Green desires.

That’s what he’s been since joining the Labor Party around 1970 while still an undergraduate. It wasn’t long after that he became fixated with electoral and redistrib-ution issues.

Little wonder that in 1995, as State Labor leader, he went to the Australian High Court to have WA’s electoral system declared unconsti-tutional. Although his costly quest failed he was prepared to have the High Court become directly involved in a purely State affair.

That’s why those hoping for a statewide referendum – like with daylight saving – on the electoral redistribution issue should forget it.

There’s no way Mr McGinty will risk a near life-long dream material-ising.

Moreover, the odds are he’d lose.

Most rural-outback voters could be expected to back an Opposition campaign, meaning non-Labor MPs would need to win only about 35 per cent backing in the urban zone for McGinty’s plan to be canned.

It’s something they’d probably easily achieve, after which we’d have to confront WA’s difficult demographic distribution again.

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